The Benefits (And Drawbacks) of Over-the-Counter Medications

Posted by Bianca Doran on April 04, 2016

The Benefits (And Drawbacks) of Over-the-Counter Medications

Over-the-counter drugs, or OTCs, are so easily accessible these days. Not only are they available in your local pharmacies, but they can also be found in grocery stores, gas stations and other convenient stores.  According to the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA), 81% of adults resort to over-the-counter medicine as a first response to treat a medical symptom. With the consumption of O.T.C.s so great, the question then becomes what are the benefits and the drawbacks?

The Good

Rising health care costs prevent many Americans from affording the treatment they need. The accessibility and affordability of over-the-counter prescription drugs provides an alternative option to what may be a pricey doctor’s prescription. It also allows the consumer to be in control of their health and over all well-being. There are also hundreds of thousands of O.T.C.s available on the market, providing a wide variety. The CHPA also found that many medications are transitioning from ‘’prescription status’ to ‘over-the-counter’ status and that since 1975, over 100 ingredients crossed this bridge. The consumption of O.T.C.s, about $44 billion last year alone, may have saved the health care system $102 billion in doctor visits and prescription medications.

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The Bad

These are all great thing rights? Well, only if the drugs are used properly. According to a consumer poll taken in 2001 for the National Council on Patient Information and Education, most people do not read all the information on the product label.

Some drugs should not be mixed with other drugs. For example, Tylenol, a very popular over-the-counter drug that is commonly used as a fever or pain reducer, contains the ingredient acetaminophen. This ingredient is also found in prescribed pain relievers such as Percocet and Vicodin. If acetaminophen is consumed in excessive amounts, it can result in severe liver damage. Most Americans will take multiple drugs for multiple symptoms, and most Americans unfortunately do not read the labels on their products.

Older patients also suffer from overusing O.T.C.s. As we age and develop chronic health issues, the body may not process the drugs as they used to. On top of taking prescription medications given to them by their doctors, the risks of experiencing adverse effects and drug interactions are higher. Many people also do not realize that many O.T.C.s are not meant to be taken long term, such as certain sleeping pills, antacids, and anti-inflammatory drugs, as these can often cause negative long-term effects.

What To Look For

Although most over-the-counter medications are safe, it is important to talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you are dealing with a chronic condition. Long-term use can cause adverse effects, especially when taking other prescribed medications. Whenever taking a new product, always read the entire label and do not hesitate to communicate with your doctor about other drugs you are currently taking.


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