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AAFP Webinar: Educating Patients on OTC Drug Safety

February 08, 2017 01:36 pm Chris Crawford

As more and more prescription medications switch to become available as OTC products, family physicians need to keep their patients informed on how best to safely use these OTC counterparts.

To support this effort, the AAFP will host a webinar on Feb. 16 from 8-9 p.m. CST that will focus on the safety of OTC analgesics.

The webinar's objectives are to refresh family physicians' knowledge on how best to

  • educate patients about the potential for harm when taking multiple medications;
  • educate patients with predisposing conditions about risks; and
  • equip patients to use OTC analgesics safely by teaching them how to read labels correctly and safely store their medications, along with other important practices.

Ada Stewart, M.D., R.Ph., who practices at the Eau Claire Cooperative Health Centers in Columbia, S.C., will present the webinar, which is made possible thanks to funding provided by Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc.

Stewart told AAFP News that many patients wrongly think OTC medications don't cause harm because they don't require a prescription.

"However, over 60 percent of patients consult a health care professional when selecting an OTC product," she said. "This allows family physicians an excellent opportunity to help educate patients about common problems associated with the use of OTC medications."

OTC Drug Safety Concerns

Stewart said patients need to be reminded that even after a prescription drug has been made available as an OTC option, the medication can still carry serious safety risks if not used correctly.

Patients should especially understand the safety concerns associated with the three most common OTC analgesics: acetaminophen (liver concerns), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (liver and kidney concerns, in addition to interactions with other medications and in patients with hypertension) and salicylates (bleeding complications and stomach ulcer concerns).

"In addition, a number of combination medications for cough and cold have these items in them, and therefore, many patients may not be aware they are taking extra Tylenol, for example," Stewart said.

When recommending that a patient use an OTC medication, Stewart said family physicians should explain how to read the drug's label and follow the instructions carefully.

"It's helpful to provide written drug names and instructions for patients so they are familiar with the name and use of the medication when they go to the pharmacy," she advised. "It's always good to encourage patients to ask the provider or pharmacist questions if they are unsure about a medication."

Protecting Susceptible Populations

Stewart said elderly patients and children are the populations most susceptible to OTC medication misuse.

Because the elderly typically are the most frequent users of OTC and prescription medications, they are more susceptible to drug interactions; children are more susceptible to dosing errors.

"Physicians should always educate patients on the importance of using appropriate dosing devices, like dosing cups or syringes, in addition to safe storage of said medications to prevent unintended use," Stewart urged.

It's important to specifically tell patients not to dose medication using common household items such as a teaspoon, she added.

Finally, Stewart said family physicians need to remind patients about the importance of reviewing all medications they are taking with medical staff.

"Patients should bring all of their medications to doctor visits to allow correct documentation and updating of medical records, and recognize that although OTC drugs are purchased without prescriptions, they can pose a potential for harm if not taken correctly," she said.

Related AAFP News Coverage
AAFP Adds Support to Bills Easing Access to OTC Drugs
Legislation Would Permit Payment Through HSAs, FSAs Without Prescription

New Resources on Promote OTC Drug Safety

Up and Away Campaign Focuses on Medication Safety for Children
AAFP Joins CDC Project Aimed at Eliminating Drug Overdoses


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