Are over-the-counter (OTC) drugs dangerous?

All drugs, regardless of whether they are illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter (available without a prescription), change the body’s function or chemistry and can be harmful. OTC drugs are available to the public with the understanding that they will be used only as directed and to treat a particular ailment.

For example, the common pain reliever, ibuprofen (more commonly known as Advil), can cause kidney damage if taken for prolonged periods. Just like with any drug, overdoses from over-the-counter medication can occur. From 1999 to 2004, there was a seven-fold increase in cases related to the abuse of DXM reported to poison control centers nationwide. Most of these cases were among 15 and 16 year olds. The health risks of abusing OTC cough and cold remedies include impaired judgment, nausea, loss of coordination, headache, vomiting, loss of consciousness, numbness of fingers and toes, abdominal pain, irregular heartbeat, aches, seizures, panic attacks, psychosis, cold flashes, dizziness, diarrhea, addiction, restlessness, insomnia, high blood pressure, coma, and death.

An overdose on over-the-counter drugs can vary greatly depending on what other drugs they are mixed with, the amount of drugs taken, and how they are taken. Some over-the-counter drugs can cause serious problems or even death if used incorrectly. The only safe way to take over-the-counter medications is exactly as directed on the bottle and to treat the symptoms for which they are intended.

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