When it comes to treating such common ailments as coughs and colds, fever,
heartburn, and aches and pains, more Americans are using more types of
nonprescription, over-the-counter (OTC) medicines than ever before. Once
consisting of a relatively small number of medications, OTC medicines now
account for the majority of all medications used in the United States,
including many that were once available only by prescription. According to
the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA), there are more than
100,000 OTC drug products on the market today encompassing about 1,000
significant active ingredients. At the same time, more than 700 OTC
remedies contain ingredients and dosages that were only available by
prescription less than 30 years ago.
With so many Americans using so many OTC medicines, an important
question for the public health community is, “how well do consumers
understand and process essential information about OTC products?” This
question is particularly relevant now that the majority of OTC products are
converting to a federally mandated “Drug Facts” label in 2002. Required by
the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the new label will make it
easier to select the most appropriate OTC product and understand a drug’s
benefits and risks. However, developing programs to promote the new label
first requires an assessment of the extent to which the facts contained on the
label are now being incorporated into the public’s decisions about self-care.
Towards this end, the National Council on Patient Information and
Education (NCPIE) commissioned a comprehensive survey to track the
opinions influencing the self-medicating behaviors of the American public.
Conducted by Harris Interactive, the survey consisted of two complementary
polls: one of 1,011 adult Americans aged 18 and over conducted between
October and November 2001, and the other involving 451 pharmacists,
nurses and general practice physicians who were...