Overmedicating On Over-the-Counter Drugs

Cut through the OTC clutter, so you avoid confusion and complications this cold season.

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| November 2nd, 2011

Myth #4: “It’s in my medicine cabinet, so it must be safe.”

Aside from the medicine aisles of your local store, you also need to navigate your medicine cabinet. Blame the tough economy, but many people opt for a huge bottle of pills that can “cure the pain of the Chicago Bears football team,” Pompei jokes. In reality, the meds end up becoming expired, or worse, in your mouth when you don’t need them.

According to the FDA, NSAIDs are used by about 17 million Americans on a daily basis, and lead to about 200,000 trips to the hospital each year for complications like gastrointestinal bleeding. (Acetaminophen overdoses are responsible for an average of over 56,000 hospital visits per year.) This leads to $2 billion in annual healthcare costs, and more scarily, 17,000 U.S. deaths yearly.

Why? “Brand names have multiple ingredients—ones that you may already be taking,” says Dave Pompei, meaning that accidental overdoses are more likely. Talk to a pharmacist or doctor if you’re taking any other medicine. Relying on the long list of a label alone is a risky way to go.

COLUMN: Beat Cold & Flu Season

Some experts call this the silent epidemic, because the culprits are so accessible. Alcohol is commonly mixed into the cocktail of OTC meds, but it can also activate an enzyme in your body that turns acetaminophen into a liver-damaging chemical. Aside from this complication, drinking can increase or decrease the activity of the medicine in your body (making you overly drowsy, or negating the effects of your medicine altogether). Clearly, any of these interactions is a recipe for disaster.

While Pompei still shudders to see people pop pills like candy, he works on getting the word out as Medical Director for Help Remedies, a brand of OTC medicine that treat symptoms with a single ingredient. This line of over-the-counter medication attempts to reduce consumer’s confusion, which cuts back on complications as a result.

This cold season, no need to avoid medicine altogether. Just knowing what you’re taking can help you get balanced when your body gets out of whack.

MORE: How to Talk to Your Doctor


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