NEW OTC INITIATIVE TO EDUCATE CONSUMERS

NEW YORK -- The National Consumers League and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, both of Washington, unveiled an education campaign here this month called "Take With Care." Through public service announcements, free brochures at pharmacies, and resources at NCL's Web site, the campaign will educate consumers on the proper use of over-the-counter pain relievers.The potential side effects of inappropriately

NEW YORK -- The National Consumers League and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, both of Washington, unveiled an education campaign here this month called "Take With Care." Through public service announcements, free brochures at pharmacies, and resources at NCL's Web site, the campaign will educate consumers on the proper use of over-the-counter pain relievers.

The potential side effects of inappropriately administered pain relievers are serious, and many consumers don't perceive OTC pain relievers as real medicine, said Linda Golodner, president, NCL.

Supermarkets are well-positioned to make an educational program like this work because their pharmacists tend to do a good job of counseling patients at the point of sale, said Macary Weck, an assistant professor at Albany College of Pharmacy, at the briefing. Weck is also an American Pharmacists Association OTC media advisor and a clinical pharmacy specialist with Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y.

"Supermarket pharmacists have a little more time to interact with consumers. They have time to step out and discuss information with them," she said.

The misuse of OTC pain relievers generally stems from consumers who take too much of a single product, mix OTC products with the same active ingredient (such as a cold remedy and a straight pain reliever), or combine OTC pain relievers with prescription drugs, according to NCL information.

The "Take With Care" campaign will focus on:

Preventing the misuse of OTC pain relievers.

Alerting consumers to common medication errors that occur when taking OTC pain relievers, such as taking too much or mixing them with other medications.

Identifying underlying health conditions that necessitate special precautions regarding OTC pain relievers.

Using media outlets and consumer education to teach about the active ingredients in pain relievers and how to take them.

Conducting targeted programs for particular groups that might be at risk or have special concerns, such as seniors taking multiple medications or parents of young children.

OTC pain relievers are safe when taken as directed, said Peter Pitts, FDA's associate commissioner for external relations, who also spoke at the media briefing.

"This is something that consumers need to know about. They don't need to be scared. However, they need to be educated," he stated.

FDA is currently considering whether changes to OTC labels are necessary, as its advisory panel has suggested. This campaign is a next step in efforts to educate consumers, Pitts said.

"The OTC medicine marketplace can be a confusing place for consumers," Weck acknowledged. The trend of OTC switches will continue to accelerate, and consumers will continue to take a more active role in their own health care, she added.

As OTC and self-care trends increase, the responsibility of consumer groups to instruct users also increases, Golodner said. The "Take With Care" initiative will be an ongoing, multi-year program, according to Golodner and Pitts.

"This is a serious issue, and it's a frightening issue," Pitts stressed.

Misuse of OTC pain relievers can have serious side effects, presenters pointed out at the briefing, including gastrointestinal bleeding, ulcers and liver damage. Consumers need to be aware of the potential health effects.

Ads for the campaign feature two side-by-side bottles, one prescription and one OTC remedy. Each bottle is labeled "Don't take me with him" over an arrow pointing to the other container.

Advertisements for the campaign will be distributed by NCL and FDA to newspapers and magazines across the country. The production of the ads was supported by McNeil Consumer & Specialty Pharmaceuticals, Fort Washington, Pa., a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson and makers of the Tylenol brand.