Generally, over-the-counter pain medications are safe when taken as recommended. But people often get themselves into trouble when they begin to mix these drugs with other over-the-counter drugs or prescription pain medications. They put themselves at risk for accidental overdose or serious drug interactions that could have deleterious effects.
In fact, acetaminophen overdose is the leading cause of calls to poison control centers in the United States, accounting for more than 100,000 calls each year.
Another risk of self-medicating with several drugs is the possibility of drug interactions causing adverse effects. Any drug a person takes has the potential to interact or change the effect or side effect of other drugs.
For those who are self-medicating, there are several things to keep in mind, things their pharmacist should tell them to do.
Patients need to read the labels.
All medications, whether over the counter or not, can harm a person if not taken properly. Even if a medication is available without a prescription, that does not mean it is harmless.
By reading the labels, patients will find the generic name for some common over-the-counter pain medications that may prevent them from taking too much of a drug. For example, the generic name for Tylenol is acetaminophen, and the generic name for Vicodin is acetaminophen hydrocodone. So, if a patient is taking both drugs, they are getting a double dose of acetaminophen – possibly more than is safe – which he would know only if he had read the label.
Before a patient begins taking multiple medications daily, they need to check with a doctor or pharmacist.
The healthcare professionals will be able to tell the patient if they are at risk for adverse drug interactions or other problems. The patient must let the doctor or pharmacist know about any over-the-counter medications, vitamins or other supplements they are taking because these can also interact with other drugs.
If a patient is self-prescribing for chronic pain, they need to tell the pharmacist all the drugs they are taking.
Here again, in addition to pain medication, the patient needs to include any other over-the-counter drugs and vitamins. The pharmacist will be able to spot any potential problems, such as harmful drug interactions when medications are taken long term. An example of this is acetaminophen and ibuprofen, which, when taken together over a long period of time, can cause kidney problems.
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