Fred M. Eckel, RPh, MS, Pharmacy Times Editor-in-Chief
Published Online: Wednesday, September 1, 2004

My position as Editor-in-Chief of Pharmacy Times gives me opportunities to speak about items of concern to consumers and pharmacists. I was asked to be a spokesman on OTC drugs. As background for this role, the company had a Harris Interactive poll conducted on key purchasing habits of OTC medicines using 2000 US adults divided almost equally between men and women. Let me share some results that should interest most pharmacists.

  • 94% of adults purchased OTC medications for themselves or for someone in their immediate family in the past 12 months.
  • The most popular OTC medications purchased include: pain relievers, including headache pain (78%); vitamins/ minerals/herbal supplements (64%); cough, cold or flu medicines (61%); medicines to relieve upset stomach, indigestion including heartburn and acid reflux (48%); and allergy remedies (44%).
  • Less than half of adults (43%) asked a pharmacist for help in choosing the right product for their symptoms.
  • 67% recognized that "store-brand" medicines will relieve symptoms as well as advertised brands. This leaves nearly one third of adults questioning whether store-brand medicines will relieve their symptoms as well as advertised brands.
  • 88% looked on the front of the package to see if an OTC medicine will treat specific symptoms before purchasing it.
  • 80% of consumers who bought store brands used the "compare to" information on the front of store-brand packages.
  • Only 12% chose an OTC medication based mostly on active ingredients.
  • When asked, "Which of the following factors is most important to you when selecting an OTC (nonprescription) medicine?" the response was: symptoms relief (47%), doctor recommendations (12%), active ingredients (12%), price (12%), pharmacist recommendation (8%), and brand name (3%).

It would seem like pharmacists have an opportunity to play a more important role in recommending OTC products. As more products are switched from prescription status to OTC, pharmacists' opportunity will be even greater. One chain has announced that they will be reorganizing their OTC sections to make them more consumer friendly and also placing a pharmacist in the section to answer questions. This company seems to realize the opportunity that OTC's represent. How are you preparing for this opportunity to assist the growing number of customers who are interested in self-care?

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