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Over-the-Counter Medications: Making Them Work for You

Jeanie Monzingo, Summer Student Intern 2000
and Doctor of Pharmacy Candidate
Southwestern Oklahoma State University

When a headache is on the horizon or you feel a cold coming on, the first thing you do is grab some medicine. Most of the time, you'll reach for an over-the-counter (OTC) product. It's easy to do - thousands of medicines are available OTC. Products range from allergy remedies to cough syrups to pain relievers.

In mid-July, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considered the prescription-to-OTC switch of two cholesterol-lowering medicines. The switch would allow consumers to buy the cholesterol-lowering medicines without a prescription. The switch was not approved but the hearings received a lot of attention.

Over 600 ingredients or dosages that were previously "prescription-only" are now available over-the-counter.3 Medicines available OTC allow consumers to play a greater role in their own healthcare. OTC medicines give consumers the freedom to choose cold remedy X out of numerous options. However, many medicine-related decisions are based on previous experience or the advice of a friend or relative. While some of these recommendations are safe, others are not.

Drug manufacturers are required to print important information about how to take OTC medicines on the package. Information about side effects of the medicine must also be included. But is this printed information enough? Does it promise safety to you and your family?

Your pharmacist can serve as a decoder in a world full of medical jargon and big words. Asking your pharmacist before making a medicine purchase is one smart idea. Pharmacists have the education and experience to help consumers make the best decisions about medicines. These are some questions your pharmacist can answer:

  • Will your cold medicine interact with your blood pressure medicine?
  • Are there side effects to your wife's new stomach acid pill?
  • Can you give ibuprofen to a three year old?

Involving your pharmacist in your medicine choices is a very positive step to make for the health of you and your family. Here are some ways to get your pharmacist involved in your health and medicine choices:

  • Tell your pharmacist all medicines you are taking, including herbals, OTC and prescription medicines.
  • Ask your pharmacist if any of the OTC medicines you take interact with your prescription medicines.
  • Ask your pharmacist about side effects of OTC medicines.
  • Double check that even "regular" OTCs you have been using for a long time are still the best choice.

Pharmacists are a gold mine of knowledge. All you have to do is ask to tap into this treasure. Pharmacists are the easiest health care providers to find. There is one around the corner or just down the street. They can help you make the best choices for you and your family.

Using your pharmacist to help make important OTC medicine choices is a positive step you can make to improve your health and the health of your family.

1) Nordhaus-Bike, AM. "Quality Patrol. A fix for drug errors." Hospital Health Network, 1997 Oct 5. Vol 71 Issue 19.

2) Leape, LL; Cullen DJ, et al. "Pharmacist participation on physician rounds and adverse drug events in the intensive care unit." Journal of the American Medical Association, 2000 Mar 8. Vol 282 Issue 3.

3) Lipsky MS, Waters M. "The 'prescription-to-OTC switch' movement. Its effects on antifungal vaginitis preparations." Archives of Family Medicine, 1999 Jul-Aug. Vol 8 Issue 4.

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