Millions of Americans use over-the-counter medicines; in fact, about 35% of Americans use OTC medications on a regular basis. A recent national survey of 2,038 U.S. adults suggests that many Americans are not in touch with the risks associated with OTC medications, and don’t feel compelled to review OTC drug facts labels carefully. As I have discussed on this blog previously, excessive medication use (regardless of whether they are prescription or OTC) can be dangerous.
Some of the survey’s key findings include:
- 2 in 5 respondents believe that OTC dosing instructions are suggestions, not directions
- While all age groups find it important to read the label on OTCs they are taking for the first time, significantly more millennials say it is still important to read the label on OTCs they have taken before (82%), whereas only 54% of older Americans over age 70 agree
- 75% of those over age 50 believe that it’s not possible to overdose on an OTC medication
- 25% of respondents feel it’s ok to not read the drug facts label if they’ve taken the medicine before
On the brighter side, some consumers are doing a little better than others at taking OTC medicines as directed and these differences are very apparent if we look at age, gender, and ethnicity.
For instance, the survey revealed that more women believe it’s important to read an OTC label than men (81% compared to 62%), and that African Americans and Hispanics are more likely to know active ingredients (72% and 66% respectively) than Caucasian (58%) consumers. Perhaps most surprising: younger generations (ages 18-49) seem to be more aware of the risks of OTC overdosing than older generations, while ethnic minorities are more likely to read an OTC label a second time than Caucasians.
The results of this survey are driving a new “Every Label, Every Time” campaign by Johnson & Johnson Consumer Healthcare, McNeil Consumer Healthcare Division in an attempt to raise awareness of OTC appropriate use. I applaud them for continuing to educate on the appropriate use of OTC medicines, and I sincerely hope that we can shift our culture from casual to conscientious when it comes to drug consumption as a whole.
To that end I hope you’ll join me in encouraging everyone to be careful with their medicines and read every label, every time.
Disclosure: Dr. Val Jones is a paid consultant for McNeil Consumer Healthcare Division.