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Over-the-Counter Drugs Carry Dangers

A story with wide impact appeared on the June 8, 2004 online InteliHealth website and ran at headline with a stern message that read, "A Dangerous Myth: If It's Over The Counter, It Must Be Safe". The article, by Robert H. Shmerling, M.D. of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center starts off by noting how easy it is for anyone with a symptom to go to their local store and purchase an over-the-counter drug.

The article notes that, "there is no such thing as risk-free medication". They list some of the problems that can occur which include:

  • Wrong treatment for the problem - Taking the wrong over the counter medication for the set of self-diagnosed health issues.
  • Side Effects - All medications carry the risk of side effects. Some, in certain instances can be serious.
  • Drug interactions - They note that any drug, even over the counter drugs, can interact with any other drugs. The results can be serious and unpredictable.
  • Worsening of existing illness - The article notes that sometimes nonprescription medications may cause a pre-existing problem to worsen.
  • Nonprescription medicines are often taken incorrectly - A common problem is when over-the-counter medicine is taken more frequently or in higher doses than recommended.
  • Duplicate medicines - Some over the counter medications are similar to prescription drugs and can cause overdoses when taken with them.
  • Unpredictable reactions - In this area the article notes, "Just because a medicine is available without a prescription does not eliminate the rare and unpredictable allergic reaction."

The author recommends caution. He recommends that you "Read the fine print." They also recommend, "Pay particular attention to warnings about conditions you might have that would make the medicine more risky."