Proper Use of Nonprescription Drugs

OTC Guide, June 2017, Volume 21, Issue 1

Every year, new products or former prescription drugs are approved by the FDA for nonprescription use and join the plethora of OTC drugs on the market.

Every year, new products or former prescription drugs are approved by the FDA for nonprescription use and join the plethora of OTC drugs on the market. For some patients, selection of nonprescription drugs may be overwhelming. Pharmacists are in a pivotal position to educate patients on the safety and proper use of these drugs. As the number of nonprescription drugs on the market continues to surge and the FDA approves more prescription drugs for nonprescription status, the potential for drug interactions and contraindications increases, as well.

Pharmacists can assist patients in the proper selection and use of nonprescription drugs by reminding them to always read labels thoroughly and ask questions when in doubt. Commonly used OTC drugs are used to treat pain, allergy/sinus conditions, heartburn, cough/cold/flu, constipation/diarrhea, and dermatologic issues.1 Patients should be advised to use caution when using multiple-ingredient combination products because they may increase the risk of therapeutic duplications and/or unnecessary drug use.1,2

When used correctly, nonprescription products can be safe and effective for treating an assortment of common ailments. Recommendations from pharmacists enable patients to make safe and informed decisions regarding their health and the use of nonprescription products. Pharmacists should always encourage patients to seek medical care when self-treatment is not appropriate. When counseling, pharmacists should stress the significance of using nonprescription drugs safely and wisely. Certain patients, particularly elderly ones, pregnant/lactating women, individuals with preexisting medical conditions, pediatric patients, and those using prescription drugs, should always consult their pharmacist or primary health care provider before using any nonprescription drug; this will ascertain appropriateness of use to avoid potential drug interactions, drug errors, or contraindications.1,2

An excellent online patient resource regarding safe use of OTC drugs is Be Medwise at bemedwise.org.

References

  • Henderson M. Self-care and nonprescription pharmacotherapy. In: Newton G, McDermott JH, et al, eds. Handbook of Nonprescription Drugs. 18th ed. Washington, DC: American Pharmacists Association; 2015.
  • Newton G, Divine H. Patient assessment and consultation. In: Newton G, McDermott JH, et al, eds. Handbook of Nonprescription Drugs. 18th ed. Washington, DC: American Pharmacists Association; 2015.