Pharmacists Can Help Address Consumer Misconceptions About OTC Products

Conversations with pharmacists can directly influence consumer attitudes and behaviors prompted by OTC advertisements.

OTC treatments are the wild west of the health care landscape, with the OTC medication market worth $151.7 billion in 2020 and projected to grow to $209 billion by 2027.1

OTC advertisements provide information that creates awareness of these products. They also may increase consumer confidence in self-medication decisions. Unfortunately, OTC advertisements may also lead to medication misuse, including overdose, medication interactions, and delayed diagnosis of medical conditions.2

Most research on pharmaceutical advertising is dedicated to prescription drugs because the United States is 1 of 2 countries that allows this advertising. One study used a subset of data from a large-scale survey on the Qualtrics panel, qualtrics.com, to examine how OTC advertising shapes attitudes and behaviors based on a consumer socialization framework.2

Participants of the broader survey had taken a prescription medication in the past 6 months. Participants in this subset of data had also taken an OTC medicine and had seen an advertisement for OTC medicines in the past 6 months.2

Mass media and conversations with professionals, such as physicians and pharmacists, directly influenced consumer attitudes and behaviors prompted by OTC advertisements, according to the study. Simultaneously, conversations with family and friends indirectly influenced consumers' OTC medication attitudes and behaviors.2

Participants expressed a moderately positive opinion toward OTC advertising. The results showed that 77.6% of respondents engaged with a physician, pharmacist, friends, or family, searched for more information on a product, or began using a product after viewing advertisements.2

Older consumers are more likely to obtain OTC medication information from physicians and pharmacists. Pharmaceutical companies would be more effective in marketing medications to older-age people by suggesting they talk to a health care provider about using this product.2

Younger consumers are more likely to obtain information from non-professional interpersonal and media sources. Pharmaceutical companies should target the marketing of medications to younger aged people through social media and word-of-mouth routes.

This study concluded that companies advertising OTC medications should focus on prompting consumer behaviors. Consumers need health literacy to navigate the credibility of information obtained from media and non-professional sources to make safe OTC medication decisions.2

Lindsey Sawtelle is a 2022 PharmD candidate at the University of Connecticut.

References

  1. Ugalmugle S, Swain R. Over-the-Counter (OTC) drugs market size by product (analgesics, cold, cough & flu products, weight loss products, gastrointestinal products, skin products, minerals and vitamin supplements, sleeping aids, ophthalmic products), industry analysis report, regional outlook, application potential, price trends, competitive market share & forecast, 2021 – 2027. Global Market Insights. Accessed 2021.08.05 https://www.gminsights.com/industry-ana lysis/over-the-counter-otc-drugs-market.
  2. Lee M, Kang M, King KW, Reid LN. The influence of socialization agents on consumer responses to over-the-counter medicine advertising [published online ahead of print, 2022 Feb 7]. Res Social Adm Pharm. 2022;S1551-7411(22)00033-X. doi:10.1016/j.sapharm.2022.02.001