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Americans and Their Pills

December 3, 2015
Plain English Version

OTC drugs

They are called over-the-counter medications (OTC). OTCs are for headaches, backaches, heartburn, pain, sleeplessness and dozens of other maladies.

Americans buy OTCs at the drug store. Big drug stores have row after row of brightly colored OTC boxes containing the products. There are over 300,000 OTC products on the market. It is a $44 billion a year industry.

None of the problems with using OTC drugs are surprising. People take more than they are supposed to. They do not read the labels. They combine OTC drugs with prescription drugs without knowing how the drugs will interact with one another.

Acetaminophen is found in Tylenol, a medication for pain and fever. People take Tylenol with other OTC drugs for colds and allergies. Acetaminophen drugs are also used with painkillers such as Percocet and Vicodin. The danger is that too much acetaminophen can cause severe liver damage.

Some remedies, such as laxatives, are taken too often. Laxatives are taken for constipation. The danger is that the bowel may become dependent on laxatives, and may even lose the ability to work without them.

OTC sleeping pills contain antihistamines. They lose their effect over time. They should not be used for more than two weeks.

Antacids are for heartburn. The danger is that they can cause diarrhea or constipation. They can react negatively with prescription drugs.

Nsaids are anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen. Taken too long, they can cause bleeding ulcers, kidney or liver damage. And they can cause an increased risk of a heart attack or stroke.

The best advice is do not take OTC drugs for long periods. Talk to the pharmacist or your health care provider about your use of OTC drugs. OTC drugs can save you money and may reduce the need for some visits to your doctor. Just take them with care.

Source: The New York Times November 30, 2015

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