How's US Health Care? People Are Now Taking Drugs Meant for Fish

August 1st 2017

Ethan Simon

While Republicans were unable to repeal Obamacare last week, which would have force 16 million people in the United States off their health care coverage, many people are still struggling to pay for basic care. Premiums are rising, and while the number of uninsured is at a historic low, more than 1 in 10 U.S. citizens under age 65 lack insurance. And even with coverage, the copays that come with visits to the doctor or pharmacy can still be a huge burden.

Now, as one thread on Twitter highlights, some are turning to drugs not intended for use by humans. 

Rachel Sharp posted this photo of Amazon reviews for a pack of aquarium antibiotics—antibiotics for fish—showing people were using them to treat human conditions. 


While the Amazon page for Moxifish—a portmanteau of "amoxicillin" (a common antibiotic) and "fish"—has since been taken down, Sharp was able to capture some of the comments in her tweet. Reviewers are careful not to state, explicitly, that they're using the products for themselves, but their language is thinly veiled.

"My fish started work at a new job and his insurance hadn't kicked in yet," one person wrote. "Well, of course, my fish caught a bad case of bronchitis or something like that. Nevertheless, we decided to give him some meds and boom! Within 2 days he was all new again and just kept swimming!" Another wrote, "My 'fish' has their wisdom teeth coming in and caused an infection. This cleared the infection perfectly."

Most of the comments are sardonic, so it's unclear how many people are actually doing this.


But similar products also had similar reviews. On the page for Fixafin, one commenter wrote, "Excellent !!! capsules are printed AMOX500 is 100% pure amoxicilin, made by Sandoz Pharmaceuticals inc.
According to drugs dot com, this drugs is used in the treatment abscess; urinary tract infection; chlamydia infection; bacterial infection; skin or soft tissue infection (and more), and belongs to the drug class aminopenicillins. There is no proven risk for humans.......euh, I mean for fishes....... during pregnancy."

Another person wrote, "My fish came down with a nasty case of bronchitis and sinusitis just before Christmas, but her health insurance doesn't kick in until the first of the year. So she couldn't go to a fish doctor because she only makes minimum wage at the aquarium, and a trip to the fish emergency room would have put her in debt so far she wouldn't be able to get out."


The thing is: Antibiotics are usually very cheap, or even free. 

The average price for amoxicillin listed on is just under $10 for 20 capsules, or 50 cents each. The price goes down the more you buy.



So why are people choosing fish pills over human ones? 

It's because you can't just buy amoxicillin over the counter. It's a prescription drug, meaning you need to see a doctor. For many uninsured Americans, the cost of seeing a physician is simply too high. According to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, "the average price of a new uninsured patient appointment was quoted as $160." That might not seem like a lot of money, but the news release goes on to point out that "a medical bill of $100 would represent about one-tenth of the monthly income of a single adult living at the poverty level." Even if those at the poverty level would be theoretically covered under Medicaid, it's clear that $160 represents a significant portion of many Americans' monthly income. 

Fish pills, on the other hand, are unregulated, nor approved by the FDA, according to Motherboard. That means you can get them on the internet without a prescription, but also that you have no idea what you're actually getting.



Why not sell human antibiotics over the counter, then?

Because if your infection is viral, antibiotics won't do any good. Antibiotics can only treat bacterial infections, according to the CDC, and when you take antibiotics when they're not necessary, you're creating antibiotic-resistant bacteria. It's not a hypothetical either: according to The New York Times, the Word Health Organization deems these "superbugs" to be "an enormous threat to human health." Overuse of antibiotics is sending us hurtling into a future of incurable bacterial strains—things like MRSA and tuberculosis. 


And health care costs are set to rise. 

With Republicans in control of the future of healthcare, there's no telling what the future might hold. For now, Obamacare is the law of the land, but clearly nothing is set in stone. And even if the ACA remains, premiums are rising, and more and more Americans will find themselves unable to visit a doctor. That means more fish pills, more antibiotic resistance, and more superbugs.