Chapter 37: Over-the-Counter Drugs: How to Use them Wisely
|A drug is a substance that when injected into a guinea pig produces a scientific paper.
|Drugs that can be purchased without a prescription are referred to as over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, and these have become a worldwide phenomenon in the present era of globalization. Common OTC medicines include pain relievers, laxatives, cold-"relieving" preparations and antacids. They are consumed rather indiscriminately by millions of people, but think carefully before purchasing an OTC drug. Do you really need a medicine in the first place? For example, rather than popping a sleeping pill into your mouth every night, a glass of warm milk may provide a better solution for your insomnia. Similarly, simple measures such as steam inhalation and salt water gargling can provide as effective relief from a sore throat as can medicines. Unfortunately, most people would rather take a pill for every ill. Consequently, more than 100 OTC drugs are available for treating the common cold - none of which have been shown to be effective! We continue to spend huge amounts in buying OTC drugs despite the fact that many of these products are of doubtful value!
Just because a medicine is available over the counter does not mean it is completely safe, and you should always check with your doctor before taking it. Moreover, sometimes OTC drugs can actually be harmful. For example, taking painkillers over many years can cause kidney failure and swallowing tablets to self-treat a fever may mask certain illnesses such as tuberculosis or malaria. Similarly, consumption of OTC medicines over a long period can create new problems: for example, total dependence on laxatives or sleeping pills. Self-medication can be sensible and beneficial, but only if done intelligently! Dont just depend on a friends advice or on your chemists suggestions: always discuss OTC drugs with your doctor!
In the USA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determines whether medicines fall under the prescription or non-prescription categories. The term prescription (Rx) refers to medicines that can be dispensed by the chemist only under a doctors orders. In contrast, non-prescription (OTC) drugs are medicines that the FDA decides are safe and effective for use without a doctors prescription. In general, OTC drugs must be useful for an ailment which is mild and easily self-diagnosable: the treatment should be of limited duration: the drug must be unlikely to produce hazardous side-effects or induce addiction: and the products labelling and instructions should be easy to follow.
At present, non-prescription medicines offer greater opportunities for self-care.
Nowadays, as we live longer and play a more active role in our own health care, the need to become better informed about self-medication increases and the easiest way to do this is to read and understand the information on the OTC leaflet. The leaflet should carry the following information
Unfortunately, the leaflet will not tell you everything you need to know about using OTC drugs, in part because manufactures dont want to scare people away. You can get complete information only by asking your doctor! Read the package insert or label before you leave the store, so that you can ask the pharmacist to clarify anything that you dont understand.
Here are some rules to follow when taking OTC drugs:
If you are pregnant, you need to be much more cautious regarding the medicines you take, since they can adversely affect the foetus. Similarly, if you are breast-feeding, remember that the drugs you take do enter the breast milk, so that you end up inadvertently passing them on to your baby as well ! Of course, this does not mean that women who are pregnant or who are breast-feeding cannot take medicines, it just means you should check with your doctor before taking them!
Be especially careful when using OTC drugs for treating children - they arent just small adults. Therefore, dont estimate the dose based on their size: follow carefully all the directions on the leaflet. Dont play doctor and double the dose just because your childs condition appears more serious than the last time and dont let children take medicines by themselves, just like you wouldnt let them play with fire. Never call a medicine a sweet or a candy in order to induce your children to take it; if they come across the medicine on their own, theyre likely to be tempted to try it, possibly with disastrous consequences! Therefore, you should store all medicines, including vitamins and supplements, in such a place where children can neither see nor reach them. One should be especially careful with iron-containing supplements: iron capsules are the leading cause of accidental fatal poisoning in children under the age of three.
Certain OTC drugs may affect the way your body reacts to the prescription drugs you are taking. For instance, people taking tetracycline should avoid taking antacids at the same time because the latter interfere with the bodys absorption of the former, thereby decreasing its effectiveness. Consequently, you must know precisely what OTC drugs you are taking, and let your doctor know as well!
Nowadays, many homeopathic and ayurvedic medicines are also available over the counter as well. Dont automatically assume that because these medicines are natural they are completely safe - remember that every medicine can have side-effects. You should apply the same common-sense principles to OTC medicines hat you do to all other medicines!