Some of the common reasons people use self-medication include allergies, coughs and colds, fever, pain, heartburn, and diarrhea. While most drugs require a prescription, consumers generally don’t need a prescription to buy an over-the-counter, or OTC, drug. These medications, however, come with risks, and we believe those risks are important to understand.
A June 2021 report by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reviewed a study which examined the use and consequences of over-the-counter drugs. The study was initiated to examine the use (and likely overuse) of pharmaceutical drugs based on concerns that many people who are using pharmaceutical drugs are not experiencing an improvement in their health. Sadly, the reverse, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), is occurring – an increase in mortality.
Some of the reasons for the increased usage include:
- People are living longer
- There’s more access to medications
- More people are self-diagnosing themselves and self-treating themselves
Self-medication is defined as selecting and using drugs (by individuals and caregivers) to “treat self-recognized or self-diagnosed conditions or symptoms.” Generally, patients should see a physician instead of treating themselves. In addition to diagnosis problems, self-medicating often means a patient or caregiver doesn’t properly consider the side effects, adverse reactions, and pharmacological interactions. The rate of self-medication increases when affordable healthcare is too costly.
The results of the NIH study on OTC drugs
The scientifically monitored study examined 727 responses to a questionnaire. Generally, the study showed that sex/gender, age, education, and income status all contributed to whether someone was taking a prescribed drug (Three-quarters of the respondents were women, and about 43 percent of all respondents were working at the time).
More than 60 percent of the respondents had a low-medium income level. Fifty-nine percent of the respondents said that they didn’t have a current health condition or disease. Nearly 1/3 said they had a chronic health condition (one that lasts more than six months). Another 8.5 percent said they had an acute (recent) health condition. The older respondents were more likely to have chronic health problems.
Overall, younger people consumed OTC drugs more. Those respondents who were less than 25 years of age had an 85% likelihood of using OTC drugs while only a little more than 1/3 of those 71 or older used OTC drugs. Generally, those who had graduate degrees or postgraduate degrees used fewer OTC drugs than students. Retirees also had a low level of OTC use; this data speaks to the idea that income level and age can drive the use of non-prescribed medications.
The most common type of OTC drug used was analgesics – painkillers and anti-inflammatories such as Tylenol, aspirin, ibuprofen, and so forth. (Other types of OTC drugs respondents said they used included antibiotics, common cold drugs like antihistamines and cough medication, gastroprotection, and muscle relaxants.)
In short, it appears the use of OTC medications for treatment of self-diagnosed conditions (AKA, a headache, a chest cold) is increasing, especially for younger people and those with lower incomes. But just because a medication can be purchased without a prescription does not mean it won’t have side effects, or that it can’t cause long-term damage to a patient.
Why Tylenol is one of the most dangerous OTC drugs
According to Best Life Online, Tylenol is among the most dangerous OTC drugs. It’s also one of the most purchased OTC drugs, generating more than one billion in yearly sales. “The active ingredient in Tylenol, acetaminophen, is also used in a range of other medications, including many popular decongestants and cough syrups.” Unfortunately, experts state that Tylenol is also linked to a little more than half of all cases of liver failure in America.
“Taking too much acetaminophen… is the most common cause of acute liver failure in the United States,” explains the Mayo Clinic. “Acute liver failure can occur after one very large dose of acetaminophen, or after higher than recommended doses every day for several days.”
A 2004 study published in the journal Hepatology reports that acetaminophen-based drugs like Tylenol account for over 100,000 calls to poison centers, 60,000 emergency room visits, 2,500 longer-term hospital stays, and hundreds of deaths in the U.S. each year.
We’ve written about other studies that show that the use of Tylenol may be connected to Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). For example,
- A 2018 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that “Acetaminophen use during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk for ADHD, ASD, and hyperactivity symptoms.”
- A 2019 study funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality also suggests that “exposure to acetaminophen in the womb may increase a child’s risk for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum disorder.”
Can you file a lawsuit if you get sick from OTC drugs like Tylenol?
It depends. Medications are required to list their side effects and potential risks; it’s why cold and hay fever medication say they can cause drowsiness, and that you shouldn’t use them if you’re going to be operating heavy machinery. It really does depend on the exact circumstances of your case when it comes to determining liability for any injuries you or your children may have sustained. It may also determine the type of lawsuit you should file: one that alleges negligence against a person or entity that caused you harm, or a product liability claim against a manufacturer.
At Martin & Helms, our Huntsville dangerous drug lawyers understand the grounds for filing a product liability claim against the drug manufacturers and sellers, and the types of injuries these drugs cause. We work with your doctors to fully understand what injuries such as liver toxicity, ADHD, ASD, or other severe health conditions you have. Our team works with your doctors and our own network of physicians to understand whether there are any remedies for your conditions, what treatments may help, and how your disorders are affecting every part of your life.
For more than 20 years, our Huntsville personal injury lawyers have been holding the businesses and people that cause personal injuries responsible for a victim’s medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering, and fatalities. Please use our contact form to schedule a free consultation. We represent dangerous drug victims across North Alabama including Huntsville, Decatur, Athens, and Madison.