Many Patients Unaware of OTC Drug Overdose Risks

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Many patients are putting themselves at risk by not reading active ingredient listings on drug packaging to make informed decisions about OTC medications.

Many patients are putting themselves at risk by not reading active ingredient listings on drug packaging to make informed decisions about OTC medications.

Researchers from California State University conducted a series of studies in which regular consumers and individuals with some medical knowledge reviewed OTC drug packing. They were asked whether 2 different OTC medication packages contained the same ingredient, which both groups were able to do. However, only those with some medical knowledge recognized that taking the 2 drugs concurrently could be dangerous.

Study author Jesse R. Catlin, PhD, told Pharmacy Times that this means many consumers may be at risk for accidentally double dosing or overdosing on OTC medications. Patients may be mistakenly under the impression that taking OTC medications has no ramifications.

“We have long been intrigued by how people evaluate and use medications, and so this seemed like an excellent opportunity to undertake research that could yield valuable insights for public health and OTC drug labeling,” Dr. Catlin told Pharmacy Times. “The FDA has also been concerned about this issue.”

Dr. Catlin stated that the findings underscored the need for more patient education on OTC medications.

“Unfortunately, the finding that consumers are relatively sanguine about using multiple OTC medications and their lack of appreciation of the active ingredients confirmed previous work and our hypotheses,” he said.

Pharmacists are often present or at least near the point of purchase for OTC drugs, which opens up an opportunity for pharmacists to share their valuable medication expertise, Dr. Catlin pointed out.

“Pharmacists, like all health care professionals, should stress the importance of reading and complying with drug labels,” Dr. Catlin concluded. “In addition, they can advise consumers that taking 2 OTC products with the same ingredient is an example of how these generally safe medications can be used in a way that increases risk. Importantly, this problem extends to combining OTC drugs with some prescription medications, which also may contain the same ingredients.”

These study findings were published in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing.

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