Over the Counter Drugs

Over the counter drugs are a common solution to ordinary minor pains that people generally come across in life. They are commonly used as a solution whether it’s menstrual symptoms, a headache, migraine or a cough, these medicines can be bought without a prescription in the blink of an eye. They are known to alleviate pain temporarily from arthritis, sprains, muscle cramps, aches, allergies and really a litany of general problems or conditions. Some people are even taking these drugs on a daily basis. There are many different types of these over the counter drugs, there’s cold and flu types like Zicam, fever reducers/general painkillers like Tylenol or Aleve, there’s Advil and Excedrin. We see so many brands, then we see the technical terms and the generic names that these brands fall under. It can get a little confusing at first. For example, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (also known as NSAIDs), come in a variety of generic names such as Ibuprofen and Aspirin.

The brands Advil and Motrin fall under Ibuprofen. The brands Bayer and Ecotrin fall under Aspirin. Aleve is a brand of Naproxen. Then there’s acetaminophen, which show up in brand names like Tylenol. Sometimes there are combinations of acetaminophen and NSAIDs such as Excedrin (which has acetaminophen, aspirin and caffeine). Though keeping up with all this is hard, the main thing you need to know is that these pills work on a chemical level to rid of or reduce pain and particular symptoms.

It seems these days there’s a pill from everything now. This is in certain aspects dangerous when it comes to over the counter pills due to the fact that they are just so easy to get a hold of. This makes for a high risk of abusing the pills. These drugs can have mind-altering effects as well. Certain cold and cough types can produce euphoria, sometimes even hallucinations, when taken in higher doses than what’s recommended on the label. Over the counter pills have opened the door to a whole new drug problem in this country. It’s probably one of the easiest drug habits of them all when taking into consideration that not only are they legal but also cheap and not attached to any prescription. When you can literally walk into a convenience store and purchase a bottle for around seven bucks, you’ve got drug addicts all over the place under the guise of a perpetual headache.

Over the Counter Pill Abuse

This is the age of pill poppers, though normally when we use the term pill popping it’s attached to a prescription. But what, in all honesty, makes this any different? It’s not that rare to see a group of teens taking cough medicine in larger doses in order to get stoned off of it. It’s being treated like a street drug. This makes it dangerous depending on who’s in possession of said bottles.

Approximately 81% of adults use over the counter medicines as the initial handling for minor pain or illnesses. About seven in ten parents use these over the counter medicines to relieve their child from minor painful symptoms. While a U.S. consumer will make 26 trips per year to buy these medicines, they will only visit the doctor three times per year. Additionally there are over 750,000 retail outlets in the U.S., which will sell you these medicine products. This is a pretty big contrast to the 54,000 pharmacies in the U.S. As you can see, these mini pills are everywhere, showing up in so many different looking bottles with so many different kinds of labels and brand names, essentially creating the same result. Abuse of these pills is more common than meets the eye. Statistically speaking, these over the counter drugs (along with prescription pills) are the most commonly abused drugs following alcohol and marijuana by American teens.

To make matters worse, people are under the fallacious idea that these over the counter drugs are safe. In reality the safety of these drugs only goes so far as the label instructs. After that, once abused or misused, it’s no longer in the hands of the professionals. Once that certain line is crossed, there’s no telling exactly what can happen. In the case of a full blown or long-term addiction, this can cause serious damage to the liver. It can be as harmful as any other old street drug. To think otherwise is a frivolous mistake.

Negative Effects of Over the Counter Drugs

There are some negative effects that come along with abusing cough syrup. These are visual hallucinations, insomnia, lethargy, dizziness, slurred speech, delusions, sweating, high blood pressure as well as liver and brain damage. Sometimes it can induce come or death. If this is interacted with other drugs there can be serious consequences to the heart or central nervous system. In a combination with alcohol, cough syrup can be fatal.

In 2005 2.2 million young people abused over the counter drugs. Over half (60%) of all the medications used in the U.S. are of the over the counter variety. It’s estimated that around five billion of these drug products are purchased by Americans each year. Since the late ’70’s there have been 73 various ingredients and dosages which made the transition from prescription to over the counter. 82 percent of women, and 71 percent of men, have reported using these drugs in the last six months in order to treat some inferior health problem. The access, as is evident in these statistics, is definitely very easy. These drugs are everywhere, in a myriad of forms or labels. No matter the brand name, the fact remains the same that these are commonly abused. An addiction to these pills can have some serious side effects such as liver failure, stomach bleeding and cardiac risks when abusing Ibuprofen or acetaminophen for example. Long term harmful effects of these over the counter drugs, in general, can cause brain damage, seizures, coma or death. These pills are regarded with way less attention than they should be getting. In these modern times of covering up almost every little problem with a pill, it’s no wonder the trend of abuse is on the rise. Supposedly about half of the 175 million adults that take these pills have admitted to exceeding the recommended dose on the label. That means, in other words, that technically about 87 million adults are abusing these pills.

Handling Over the Counter Pill Abuse

A lot of times an addiction or abuse can start with somebody honestly needing these pills for an intended result due to a mild or minor painful situation. But what happens is they take more than the recommended amount due to the false widespread perception that these pills are safer than prescription pills when they are in fact pretty much the same thing. Abusing anything, which creates such effects at a chemical level is not safe, no matter the lack of prescription attached to them. Just because you can get a hold of them as easily as candy in the supermarket doesn’t make them as safe. So, after the person impatiently takes a little bit more than they were instructed to by the bottle, they might start getting used to this idea. Eventually they may like how this amount makes them feel, the slight vague high they get from a little excess past the recommendation. Then they start taking more, and more, and even more, until they’re full blown abusing it often and in highly dangerous doses. Like any drug, over the counter drugs have a potential to become addictive in this manner.


By Robert O. Newman II, ICDAC, ICPS, CIP