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Use of over-the-counter drugs requires prudence.


As medical-care costs skyrocket and insurance benefits decrease, more and more persons are driven to use over-the-counter (OTC), or nonprescription, drugs for treatment of perceived ailments. This trend has many benefits, but also potentially dangerous side effects, particularly among the elderly. "The risk of adverse reactions is increased because older patients are often managed (medically) with multiple-drug therapy, and in a complex regimen, OTCs can cause additive effects and interactions with prescription drugs," says University of Maryland pharmacy professor Peter Lamy.

Concern is also associated with the layperson's possible inability to diagnose his/her malady, select the appropriate OTC drug, and follow directions for its use. Lamy cites examples of problems associated with the use of OTCs, such as swallowing chewable tablets whole (the tablets subsequently not dissolving, thus requiring surgical removal), dissolving aspirin tablets in the mouth (thus burning the lining of the flesh), and taking bulk laxatives without sufficient water dilution (necessitating surgical intervention to foster bowel evacuation). Multiple other risks are present in taking OTC drugs as well.

Elimination of OTCs is not a viable consideration. Carefully selected nonprescription drugs are useful in treating such ailments as mild sore throats, coughs, and such minor aches and pains as backaches, constipation and allergies. There is a need, however, to find some means of ensuring wise selection of OTCs to prevent greater problems than the ones the drugs were produced to wise selection of OTCs to prevent greater problems than the ones the drugs were produced to alleviate. The possibility that a cure is more dangerous than an ailment is an ever-present concern.

Individuals, families, pharmacists, and other health care professionals need to be diligent in monitoring the use of OTCs. Drug companies need to specify in clear terms in readable packaging the potential hazards associated with use of their products. Physicians and other health professionals need to know the drugs available to the public and provide specific advice to clients regarding dangerous interactions with drugs already in use. The consumer needs to use all available resources to assure safety in the use of OTCs, as well as prescription drugs. Prudent use of OTCs and checking with one's physician when a health condition does not improve within a reasonable time is extremely important. Your pharmacist is a valuable ally in deciding whether to use a particular OTC, determining whether medical intervention is advisable, and understanding possible negative effects from use of the OTC substance.
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Publication:Medical Update
Date:Sep 1, 1989
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