Experts warn against increased access to over-the-counter medicines

March 28th, 2008 - 2:44 pm ICT by admin  

London, March 28 (ANI): Increasing peoples access to drugs that can be bought at pharmacies may affect safety and reduce effectiveness, two experts have warned.

According to Robin Ferner, Director at the West Midlands Centre for Adverse Drug Reactions and Keith Beard, Consultant Physician at the Victoria Infirmary Glasgow, the safety of over-the-counter medicines should be kept under close review and patients should be urged to report any adverse reactions.

They suggest that drugs such as statins could be less effective because over-the-counter doses are lower. They also caution that some powerful painkillers available without prescription have potentially harmful side effects.

Medicines are currently divided into classes that do or do not require prescription, Ferner and Beard said.

Prescription only medicines are subject to a range of controls that are relaxed when medicines are made more freely available over the counter. When deciding if a medicine should be reclassified to make it available over the counter, regulatory authorities must balance the benefits of easier access against the potential harm from unsupervised or inappropriate use.

Once medicines have been reclassified, they remain subject to safety review. Patients, doctors and pharmacists can all benefit if medicines are available over the counter. Drug companies and retail pharmacies can also expect to benefit commercially from reclassification of medicines as over the counter.

However, the authors say that there are worries about over-the-counter medicines. For instance, a patient who makes the wrong diagnosis and uses an inappropriate over-the-counter medicine may present late with a potentially serous but treatable condition. Prescribers also have no opportunity to reinforce instructions for safe use as they can with prescribed medicines.

Regulators can decrease the potential for harm of over-the-counter medicines by specifying the concentration, dose, or pack size that a pharmacist can supply without prescription. However some drugs, such as statins, are probably less effective in low doses than in the higher doses usually prescribed, they explained.

Ferner and Beard also blamed Internet shopping, which allows people to order medicines without involving a doctor or pharmacist in the decision.

They said that to increase the safety of over-the-counter medicines, they have to be continually reviewed.

They said that patients should regularly report any adverse effects of a particular medicine.

The report is published in the British Medical Journal. (ANI)

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