Taking over-the-counter medication is too important for guesswork

A new survey reveals that while Canadians are frequent users of over-the-counter (OTC) medications and use them in combination with other medications, they don’t always consult with a health-care professional first. The survey also revealed that Canadians are aware that important information should be sought before taking OTC medications, but frequently are not aware of the questions to ask.

“Over-the-counter medications are safe and effective, but Canadians need to ‘be med wise’ about using OTC products,” commented Garth McCutcheon, president of the Canadian Pharmacists’ Association (CPhA). “These are real medicines so Canadians should ask specific questions of their health-care professional before using them, especially when in combination with other medications.”

Survey highlights
About two-thirds (66 per cent) of Canadians have sometimes used non-prescription medications in the past six months – with as many as 12 per cent taking them on a daily basis. Daily usage increases with age, with 26 per cent of Canadians aged 65 and older taking them every day.

Non-prescription medication is being taken in combinationwith other products. In the past six months, 32 per cent of Canadians took a non-prescription and prescription medication at the same time. The number increased to 42 per cent for people over the age of 65. Thirteen per cent took two non-prescription medications simultaneously to treat the same symptoms.

In the past six months, only half (54 per cent) of those who took both a prescription and non-prescribed medication simultaneously consulted with a doctor first, 17 per cent consulted with a pharmacist while 28 per cent did not consult with any type of health-care professional.

Although 91 per cent of respondents somewhat or strongly agreed with the statement “pharmacists are a good provider of non-prescription medication information”, only 17 per cent consulted with a pharmacist.

When asked about what type of information should be sought before taking non-prescription medication, about half (49 per cent) of adults stated that a health-care professional should be asked about possible side effects.

Knowing also to ask for other information – possible drug interactions, the symptoms the product is intended to treat, warnings and precautions, and how to use the product – ranked significantly lower across all age groups.

Based on these results, the Canadian Pharmacists’ Association and The Drug Information and Research Centre (DIRC) are working together to encourage Canadians to follow their Be MedWise Prescription for Taking OTC Medicines.

CPhA / DIRC “prescription”
“There are important questions to ask your health-care professional about the selection and appropriate use of OTC medicines,” says Sherrie Hertz, a drug information pharmacist at the Drug Information and Research Centre. “Canadians should take this checklist of questions with them when purchasing an OTC product.”

What over-the-counter medicines are available for the symptoms I want to treat?
How should I take it?
How long should I take it?
Should I avoid alcohol, other medications or certain activities while I take this medication?
What are the possible side effects?
Is it safe to use this medication if I am pregnant or breastfeeding?
How should I store this medication?
When will it expire?
Is there anything else I should know before using this medication?

Additional information about over-the-counter medications is available at www.bemedwise.ca – where consumers and health professionals can get detailed information about how to read an OTC drug label, how to compare products, learn about dosages and understand information about specific warnings.

“The key message of this public education effort is to encourage Canadians to seek out the advice of pharmacists and other health-care professionals about how to use OTC medications correctly,” adds McCutcheon. “With the increasing use of OTC drugs, this dialogue is more important than ever before.”

The Canadian Pharmacists’ Association is the national organization of pharmacists, committed to providing leadership for the profession and improving the health of Canadians.

The Drug Information and Research Centre (DIRC), the largest of its kind in North America, is a drug resource centre of the Ontario Pharmacists’ Association, a voluntary, not-for-profit professional association of pharmacists and pharmacists-in-training in Ontario.

Leger Marketing conducted the survey of 1,500 Canadian adults aged 18 and over who had taken a non-prescription medication in the past six months. The survey was conducted between October 19 and October 24, 2004, with a confidence level of +/- 2.5%, 19 times out of 20. The national survey, www.bemedwise.ca and the Be MedWise Prescription for Taking OTC Medicines were developed through an unrestricted educational grant from McNeil Consumer Healthcare.