Editor's Note: Pharmacists Play a Key Role in Patient Self-Medication

OTC Guide, June 2014, Volume 18, Issue 1

Even if we are not taking a prescription drug regularly, we all have probably consumed an OTC drug recently. These products have become ubiquitous in our culture. The old advertisement that “relief is just a swallow away” rings true for most of us when we think of OTC medications. This is one type of self-medication that is truly encouraged in our society.

These products often seem harmless. Yet that is not always true, as can be seen by recent efforts to reduce the risk of severe liver damage from excessive consumption of acetaminophen. The FDA advisory mentions that “cases of severe liver injury with acetaminophen have occurred in patients who:

  • Took more than the prescribed dose of an acetaminophen-containing product in a 24-hour period;
  • Took more than 1 acetaminophen-containing product at the same time; and
  • Drank alcohol while taking acetaminophen products.”

Because acetaminophen is widely used in both prescription and OTC products, patients need to be aware of this risk. This problem with acetaminophen serves to illustrate the important role that pharmacists play with OTC products.

Pharmacists have knowledge about OTC medications. The ready accessibility of pharmacists to the public makes them ideal to assume an increased role in educating patients on the proper usage of all medications, especially OTC products. As we advise self-medicating patients on what products might work best for treating their specific symptoms, pharmacists also have the opportunity to educate patients on appropriate self-care. More important is the opportunity to triage a patient to see a physician when self-medication may not be appropriate. Yes, pharmacists play a key role in patient self-medication.

One major supplier of OTC acetaminophen has initiated a campaign to “Get Relief Responsibly.” The supplier offers 3 tips for responsible relief:

  • Always read and follow your medicine labels.
  • Take only 1 acetaminophen-containing medicine at a time.
  • Do not take more than the recommended dose unless directed by your health care provider.

These are good recommendations that pharmacists should communicate to patients when offering advice.

Is there another role that pharmacists might play with regard to some current prescription drugs if they become OTC products? Pharmacists have attempted to create a third category of drugs that could be provided without a prescription—upon consultation with a pharmacist—to ensure effective and safe use. I think there is merit to this notion, and I hope the FDA will consider this category of drugs again. I think there is clearly a point before a drug is transferred to OTC status where a pharmacist-only category, or “third class of drugs,” makes sense. Could statin products fall into this category? I think they could.

Pharmacy Times is proud of the role we have played in promoting the unique role of pharmacists and educating pharmacists about all OTC products. We have now published this comprehensive OTC Guide, the Survey of Pharmacists’ OTC Recommendations, for 18 years.

The OTC Guide serves to enhance the role of the pharmacist in making OTC product recommendations, as we give visibility to the products recommended by pharmacists in the various product areas. We hope you enjoy this latest edition and the survey results—and also download our enhanced free app and share it with your patients.

We are always looking for your ideas of how we can improve our efforts to serve the pharmacy community better, so your feedback is always welcome. Please visit www.PharmacyTimes.com, join us on Facebook and Twitter, and share your thoughts.