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Combating medication errors.

NEW YORK -- More is not always better.

That is part of the message the Food and Drug Administration and the National Consumers League are attempting to convey in "Take with Care," their recently launched campaign focusing on the prevention of common medication errors in the home involving over-the-counter drugs.

FDA associate commissioner for external relations Peter Pitts and NCL president Linda Golodner concur that consumers are not recognizing the potency of nonprescription pain relievers and often are not taking such products as directed.

Pitts and Golodner, along with Macary Weck, an assistant professor of pharmacy practice at Albany College of Pharmacy in Albany, N.Y., hope that pharmacists and other health care professionals will help alert consumers to the dangers of such products when they are not taken correctly.

Misuse of O-T-C pain relievers has been linked to such medical problems as gastrointestinal bleeding, ulcers and liver damage.

"O-T-C pain relievers and fever reducers are safe drugs when used as directed, but they can cause serious problems when used by people with certain conditions or those who are taking specific medicines," advises Pitts. "We want to remind consumers who take these products that it's important to follow current dosing and label directions carefully."

The three agree that the sheer volume of O-T-C pain relievers and cough and cold medicines used in the country underscores the importance of the campaign. They cite figures showing that nearly 80% of adults say they take a nonprescription pain reliever at least once a week.

"O-T-C pain relievers play an increasingly vital role in the health care system, but they are potent medicines with potential risks as well as benefits," points out Golodner.

"A priority for public education is to help consumers learn about the active ingredients in O-T-C pain relievers and what can happen when people take too much or combine these medications inappropriately."

(In the case of pain medicines containing a single ingredient, almost every O-T-C product uses one of four active ingredients: acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen sodium.)

Part of the campaign will provide advice on how to avoid inadvertently taking more than the recommended doses of O-T-C pain relievers. It will also outline those underlying health conditions that increase risk.

Print public service advertisements and distribution of a booklet on the ingredients of O-T-C pain relievers are planned.

The organizers say the campaign will concentrate on providing the more than 175 million Americans who use nonprescription pain relievers with information concerning the active ingredients in the different types of those products and how the drugs can be taken inappropriately, either in excessive quantities, by mixing O-T-C products or by combining nonprescription pain relievers with certain prescription medications.

In addition, the initiative will focus on certain population groups including parents with young children and especially older Americans, who face particular risks because they often take multiple medications.

Weck, who also serves as a clinical pharmacy specialist with Price Chopper Supermarkets, encourages consumers to consult with pharmacists and physicians if taking O-T-C medications, prescriptions or dietary supplements.

The three point to several factors that often contribute to the misuse of O-T-C pain relievers and cough/ cold medicines: a perception among many people that nonprescription drugs are not "real" medicines, a limited understanding of the ingredients in such products, and a view that "more is better" when treating headaches and other types of pain with such drugs.

Other key findings include:

* Most Americans take nonprescription medicines routinely for various common ailments, including pain, cough/cold and allergy/sinus.

* Most physicians, pharmacists and other health care professionals are concerned about the inappropriate use of O-T-C medicines.

* Large numbers of patients are likely to combine nonprescription medicines when they have multiple symptoms (such as a headache and a stuffy nose).

* Many consumers admit to taking an O-T-C medicine and a prescription drug simultaneously.
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Title Annotation:Focus
Publication:Chain Drug Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 19, 2004
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