WASHINGTON -- As many as one-third of consumers surveyed admit to exceeding the recommended dose of an over-the-counter product because they thought it would treat the ailment in question better.
In detailing such potential dangers, the study, "Navigating the Medication Marketplace: How Consumers Choose," also stresses the importance of pharmacists in shaping the habits of OTC shoppers.
The survey, released last month, was conducted and compiled by Prevention magazine, published by Rodale Press, Emmaus, Pa., and the American Pharmaceutical Association, based here.
"Consumers clearly want access to OTCs to treat a wide range of conditions," Lucinda Maine, APhA's senior vice president for professional affairs, said in a prepared statement. "By their own admission, they may not always use them appropriately and this can have serious health consequences.
"The growing availability of nonprescription products means that now, more than ever, the consumer needs advice from capable health professionals -- particularly pharmacists."
APhA and Prevention's study comes as the Food and Drug Administration prepares to implement long-considered changes in OTC drug labeling. One of the agency's suggestions is to add "or pharmacist" to the phrase "ask your doctor" on packaging.
Lenora Davis, pharmacy coordinator in Winn-Dixie Stores' Jacksonville, Fla., division, said Winn-Dixie displays prescription-to-OTC switch products in a waiting area near the pharmacy.
"Our marketing department comes out with signage, when items go from prescription to OTC, that says 'ask the pharmacist.' If we get things from the manufacturer's rep, we use those."
Joe Prigaro, pharmacy director of Star Market Co., Cambridge, Mass., agreed that manufacturer-provided materials are helpful.
"Some of the products, when they do switch over, have a lot of marketing support, which includes shelf talkers that say 'ask your pharmacist,"' he said, adding that pharmacists themselves have to work to stay informed.
"My concern with switches is that you really have to retrain the pharmacist, because there are different indications and different dosings involved."
Other findings of the APhA/Prevention survey, a sampling of 1,202 adults nationwide, included the following:
As many as 80% of adults treat themselves for headaches, upset stomachs, fevers and the like before consulting a health care professional.
More than one-half have bought an OTC product on a pharmacist's say-so; more than one-third have shunned an OTC product for the same reason.
About one-third believe OTC labels do a bad job explaining symptoms products are supposed to treat, side effects and possible dangers in taking other medications simultaneously.
"That's where the pharmacist's expertise comes in," said Davis, noting that pharmacists are thoroughly schooled in drug interactions. "A cardiologist knows his specialty, knows his drugs, but he may not know, for example, a diabetic's drugs."
"I would much rather have the customer ask the pharmacist questions rather than rely on their own background information, or their friends'," said Prigaro. "That's what the pharmacist is for."