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Half of Americans Misuse OTC Pain Relievers

In Brief

Approximately one in two Americans misuse common pain relievers such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, according to results of a new survey released today by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) and the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA). The survey also found that more than three-quarters of respondents reported never speaking to a doctor or nurse about any potential risks associated with these medications, many of which can be purchased without a prescription.

Most OTC pain relievers fall into the category of drugs called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, which are generally safe and effective for managing pain but can cause serious side effects such as stomach bleeding when misused. NSAID-related complications have been linked with 103,000 hospitalizations and more than 16,000 deaths per year in the United States.

The survey, developed by ACEP and ENA, analyzed the behavior of 3,443 people in the United States in regard to their use and misuse of pain relievers. The term “misuse” refers to taking more than the recommended number of pills per dose and/or taking pills more often than the label directs. The survey showed that most respondents admitted to taking more pills per dose than is recommended, and that nearly half have taken pills more often than is recommended.

Indeed, the survey found that 66 percent of people did not read the label the last time they took an OTC pain reliever. The survey also reviewed the responses specifically of arthritis and joint pain sufferers - people who tend to have chronic pain. Recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate the number of Americans with these conditions is at an all-time-high of 70 million. The survey showed that arthritis and joint pain sufferers were more likely to misuse OTC pain relievers than the total survey respondents by not following label instructions. Specifically the survey revealed that 62 percent admitted to taking more pills per dose than the label recommends, and nearly 54 percent take more frequent doses than directed on the label.

© 2004 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.