While politicians on Capitol Hill continue to debate the particulars of this country's health care system, Americans are finding unusual workarounds that help them navigate a deeply flawed process. Case in point: Some people are taking medication designed for their pets in order to avoid pricey trips to the doctor.
In a tweet that has since gone viral, Rachel Sharp recently posted a screenshot of some reviews for the fish antibiotic MoxiFish in which it's pretty clear that the commenters are not using this product to treat their fish:
How bad is American healthcare?— 𝚁𝚊𝚌𝚑𝚎𝚕 𝚂𝚑𝚊𝚛𝚙 (@WrrrdNrrrdGrrrl) July 30, 2017
Read the reviews for aquarium antibiotics and decide for yourself. pic.twitter.com/DT8wuq4iHg
That's right, fish antibiotics. Purchased on Amazon. According to online forums like this one or this one, you can also find these medications at any pet store or big box chain. While it may sound crazy to take antibiotics that are designed for aquarium fish, it's actually interesting to note that many of these products contain the exact same medication — often in the same doses — that are given to humans, such as amoxicillin, ciprofloxacin and penicillin.
For example, for $30 you can get a 30-count bottle of MoxiFish which contains 500-milligram tablets of antibiotics. That's a heck of a lot cheaper than a doctor visit and pharmacy bill.
And it's not just fish that are getting hit up for their drugs. In this Reddit thread, a user talks about using horse liniment for aches and pains. And Twitter is filled with posts from folks who have used their pet's medication because it costs too much to see a doctor:
When my dog was taken off her antibiotics because they upset her stomach I kept them for myself because I haven't had insurance for 5 yrs. https://t.co/NhIsGUbDXK— happy new fears (@sueycat) July 30, 2017
Best part is that the amox is cheap and plentiful from pet suppliers. Aquarium antibiotics are the same as the "human" drugs.— Another Savage (@incoherent_rage) July 22, 2017
The FDA weighs in
So what's the big deal about taking fish antibiotics? For starters, the products currently available do not have the stamp of approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the agency tasked with regulating the safety, efficacy and purity of all drugs whether they are for humans or for animals. At present, the FDA has approved medications for companion animals (dogs, cats, horses) and food animals (chickens, cows, goats) but not for ornamental fish.
"The antibiotics available in pet stores or online for ornamental fish have not been approved, conditionally approved, or indexed by the FDA, so it is illegal to market them," the FDA said in a statement to Smithsonian.com.
The Smithsonian piece goes on to explain that the FDA probably hasn't had fish antibiotics on their radar because they are such a small piece of the antibiotic market. But that may soon change.
"We are currently looking into these products," said the FDA in a statement.
Another reason you might want to pass on the pet pills is that you can't just take any antibiotic for any illness. Amoxicillin is used to treat different things than say, ciprofloxacin. And each drug also comes with its own side effects and potential reactions with other medications. Choose wrong and you could be looking at health issues that go beyond an abscess tooth or urinary tract infection.
Of course, the bigger issue here is not that Americans are taking medications designed for their pets. Nor is it whether or not it is a good idea for them to do so (it's not.) The real issue is why a country that sees itself as the leader of the free world has citizens who feel they have no other choice than to take animal antibiotics when they are sick. Sounds fishy, doesn't it?