Spanish social media influencers have started recommending medication to their followers on YouTube and Instagram, which pharmacists say poses serious health concerns. The FRANCE 24 Observers took a look at this dangerous trend and what pharmacists and officials are doing to combat it.

“No influencer is an expert in medication-- YOUR PHARMACIST IS,” tweeted an association of Spanish pharmacists on January 11. "Medication IS NOT a trend.”

"In light of the growing trend of influencers recommending medication, we wanted to inform the public that pharmacists are the ONLY experts in medication,” tweeted an association of Spanish pharmacists, along with the slogan “medication is NOT a trend”.

This tweet is a response to a growing trend in Spain. Influencers, often with thousands of followers, have been posting videos on YouTube and Instagram recommending medication to treat an array of conditions, including insomnia and acne and other skin problems.

"People are coming into pharmacies and asking for specific medication because they saw an influencer take it"

Guillermo Martin Melgar, who tweets under the name “The Furious Pharmacy” (Farmacia enfurecida) is extremely worried by this growing trend. He himself is extremely active on social media and is part of a group known as the the Association of Pharmacist Influencers in Spain. In September 2019, he posted a thread calling out influencers and bloggers that have been recommending specific medication.

"I’m going to put together a thread of all the influencers and bloggers who are promoting medication,” Melgar tweeted at the start of this thread, which was full of screengrabs and videos of the influencers in question.

Supposedly prescipted medication

One of the influencers recommending medication is Jenn Muchelas, who has amassed 249,000 followers on Instagram by posting photos of clothes and the beach.

In this excerpt from an Instagram story shared by Melgar in September, Muchelas recommends taking Aciclovir to take care of your lips.

In another video, fashion and beauty blogger Maria Soriano, who has 281,000 followers on Instagram, points the camera at one of her friends, who is holding up an Eridosis wipe, and says, "I have Eridosis in my bag in case Marta gets a pimple!”
 

Lots of bloggers recommend using Eridosis to treat acne. Eridosis is applied using a wipe so it can be mistaken for a cosmetic item instead of a medication.

Eridosis is an antibiotic and Aciclovir is a strong, antiviral medication and neither of these medications should be taken without a prescription from a doctor. Promoting them is illegal under Spanish law.

Melgar saw more and more of these videos online and decided that he needed to act.

I started seeing fashion influencers reference medication in their Instagram stories. They were recommending medication without any knowledge of what it actually contains. The medication that they were talking about should be prescribed by a doctor or recommended by a pharmacist to a particular patient, not recommended to the entire population.

People are coming into pharmacies and asking for medication that they saw influencers take. Sometimes, pharmacists aren’t careful and sell them these products. That’s really dangerous. Customers could be allergic to the medication or have bad side effects.

“The real influencer should be your pharmacist, a health professional who is an expert in medicine”

After seeing Melgar’s posts, a professional group of pharmacists, the General Council of the Association of Official Pharmacists (Consejo General de Colegios Oficiales de Farmacéuticos, or CGCGF)  also spoke out about the dangers of this practice and called on the Minister of Health to do so, as well.

Ana López-Casero, the spokesperson for the CGCGF, says that recommending medication puts people’s health at risk, especially when you are talking about antibiotics.

"It’s the absolute opposite of what we should be promoting-- the rational and responsible use of medication,” López-Casero says. “You shouldn’t play around with health. It’s important to tell people online that if they have a concern about medication, the real influencer should be their pharmacist, who is a health professional and an expert in medicine.”

In this video from June 2018, a YouTuber who makes videos about beauty trends told her more than a million followers to put aspirin on their skin all night to get rid of acne. Aspirin contains an ingredient called acetylsalicylic acid, which is excellent for fighting acne,” she says. However, aspirin should not be taken in strong doses and even a topical application can be dangerous if you use too much.

Brands often pay influencers to promote their products or trips, etc. On both Instagram and YouTube, you can indicate when it is a paid partnership, but a lot of influencers don’t do this. Do the Spanish influencers recommending medicine have contracts with laboratories? The FRANCE 24 Observers team spoke to the GSK laboratory, which produces Aciclovir:

"GSK says that [bloggers are carrying out] this kind of activity on a totally independent basis, in accordance with both Spanish law and the internal policy of GSK, which bans any kind of contractual agreement with influencers, whether we’re talking about prescription medicine or drugs sold over the counter."

After the CGCGF complaint, the Spanish Health Minister decided to start working with Google to eliminate videos recommending medication. Since then, several videos have been removed from YouTube. The Spanish Health Minister told the newspaper El Pais that they haven’t received any complaints about content on Instagram. However, pharmacist Guillermo Martin Melgar thinks that Instagram is the most problematic platform of all:

Most of these videos are shared as Instagram stories, which means that they are deleted after 24 hours. It’s really hard to find them and, currently, nothing is being done about this particular social media platform.

Half of people in Spain think that antibiotics are used to treat colds and viruses, according to a study published by the European Commission in 2016.

Article by Marie Genries