What you need to know about Over-the-Counter Medicine

What are over the counter medications

Over-the-counter medications can be sold to consumers directly without a medical prescription from a healthcare worker as opposed to prescription drugs which are supplied to consumers with a valid prescription from a licensed healthcare worker.

Over-the-counter drugs are selected by regulatory agencies that ensure that these drugs do not have any harmful ingredients, are safe and effective when used without advice from a medical practitioner.

Over-the-counter drugs are regulated depending on the active pharmaceutical ingredient and not the final product. By regulating the active pharmaceutical ingredient, the government gives pharmaceutical companies a chance to formulate ingredients into proprietary mixtures.

Generally, over-the-counter drugs are used to manage conditions that do not need the direct supervision of a medical doctor, and the agents must be proven safe and well-tolerated.

Over-the-counter drugs have little or no abuse potential. Although, in some areas, drugs like codeine are available over-the-counter with strictly limited formulations or requiring paperwork. Usually, following drug development, drugs that prove themselves safe as prescription can be switched from prescription to over-the-counter after three to six years. One of the drugs that has been switched is the antihistamine diphenhydramine, which was initially a prescription drug now available as an OTC drug worldwide. More recent drugs include ibuprofen in Australia, cimetidine, and loratadine in the United States of America.

It is unusual for an OTC to be withdrawn from the market over safety concerns, but it can happen. For example, phenylpropanolamine was removed from the market in the USA due to fears of it being associated with stroke in young women. Ranitidine was also withdrawn as an OTC due to concerns over the carcinogen N-nitrodimethylamine.

Benefits of OTC drugs

In addition to saving a lot of money for the National Health systems, OTC drugs give people some sense of control over their health. Over-the-counter medications are readily available and thus can manage acute conditions before a patient gets to a hospital. They are a cheap option since you don’t need to pay for a medical prescription.

According to FDA, there are around 300,000 over-the-counter medications in the market, and the number is growing seamlessly as many medicines are moving from prescription to OTC.

Disadvantages of OTC drugs

One in five people who use over-the-counter drugs admits to using an excessive dosage and longer than the recommended time. Even if over-the-counter medications are used correctly, there can be problems. Most of the issues arise from combining with other OTC drugs or prescription drugs, which increases the risk of harmful drug interactions.

The harmful effect can also occur due to underlying chronic liver, kidney, heart, and metabolic diseases. For example, one of the most common OTC drugs, acetaminophen, results in 30,000 hospitalizations annually due to acute liver failure.

According to the national council, a third of Americans combine OTC drugs when treating multiple symptoms, with further increase the risk of drug interactions. Only one in ten people read the label before using an OTC drug. Some don’t even check expiration dates.

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