Consumers don’t appreciate risks with OTC medicines

Many patients believe that non-prescription medicines (NPMs) are “too weak to cause any real harm” and exceed the recommended dose to increase the perceived effectiveness, according to previous research from the US.

Now a study from Scotland confirms that “there is general low public risk perception of NPMs” but those people who do perceive the risks are less likely to disclose information when buying medicines from pharmacies. “Interventions that raise risk perception are unlikely to enhance the safe and effective supply of NPMs,” the authors say.

Researchers sent postal questionnaires to 3,000 adults in 2008. The female:male ratio was 2:1 to reflect the profile of people buying NPMs. Of these, 927 responded (the average age was 52.3 years, ranging from 19 to 96 years). Seventy-three per cent were female, 49 per cent had used a pharmacy in the previous 14 days and 43 per cent had bought a NPM during the month before the survey.

Overall, 57 per cent said that NPMs were associated with a low risk of harm or an unpleasant outcome and 23.9 per cent were neutral. Almost a fifth (19.0 per cent) felt that NPMs were associated with a high risk of harm or an unpleasant outcome.

Respondents who had a low risk perception were significantly more likely to have disclosed information during their last pharmacy consultation (41.2 per cent) than those with a higher risk perception (33.0 per cent).

The authors say the results underscore the “need to increase public awareness regarding the use of NPMs as well as the importance of sharing information” during the consultation. The pharmacy team, they say, should actively seek “relevant information from consumers to inform their decisions regarding the appropriate treatment”.

Ongoing research is exploring strategies to “influence both service provider and user behaviour” during NPM consultations.

International Journal of Pharmacy Practice doi: 10.1111/ijpp.12433

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