Education Needed: Consumers Focused on Getting Rid of the Pain, Overlooking Side Effects


NEW YORK, NY–(HISPANIC PR WIRE)–January 30, 2003–According to new data released today by the National Consumers League (NCL), the ongoing abuse and misuse of over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen and naproxen is a very real problem in the United States. The survey of 4,263 adults, conducted by Harris Interactive®, revealed that more than 175 million adult Americans take OTC medications for pain relief, and many of them are doing it without regard for their safety. Of those who’ve taken an OTC pain reliever within the last year (84 percent), 44 percent admitted to exceeding the recommended dose. Many also ignore critical label information. NCL released the survey today to help educate the 30 million consumers who take pain relievers known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or (NSAIDs) about the possible dangers of improper use. The survey is one of the largest public opinion polls ever conducted regarding OTC pain medications.

“Our survey results are disheartening, but they reflect what we suspected about the behavior of those in great discomfort. Too often, consumers just want the pain to go away, so they take more medicine than the label instructs, and they don’t talk to their doctor about possible risks,” says Linda Golodner, NCL president. “But just because a medication is available without a prescription doesn’t mean it’s risk-free.”

Statistics show that 16,500 people die each year, and 103,000 are hospitalized from NSAID-related complications. Additionally, use of OTC NSAIDs increases the risk of stomach bleeding by two to three times and most serious side effects can occur without warning symptoms.

“Over-the-counter painkillers bring relief to millions of Americans for arthritis, headaches, and other common pains. But these drugs – while convenient – aren’t foolproof, and there’s nothing convenient about a hospital stay to treat gastrointestinal problems due to OTC painkiller misuse,” said Marie Griffin, M.D., M.P.H., professor of Preventative Medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “Many people may overlook the risks of mixing OTC pain medications with other drugs, especially cold remedies with multiple active ingredients, prescription drugs, and alcohol. But the combination can be harmful and even deadly.”

The survey also revealed:

— 50 percent of respondents who reported taking an OTC pain reliever within the last year were not concerned about potential side effects.

— Almost half (45%) agreed that it is more important to control pain regardless of risk.

— Unprompted, only 16 percent reported reading the entire product label.

Attitudes regarding mixing OTC pain relievers with other medications were surprising:

— 45 percent of the people who reported taking an OTC pain reliever agreed that it is safe to take an OTC pain reliever while also taking another OTC cold or flu medication.

— One-third (34%) agreed it is safe to take an OTC pain reliever while taking a prescription medication.

— Almost 20 percent agreed it is safe to take an OTC pain reliever while drinking some alcohol.

— An overwhelming majority (80 percent) have not discussed some of the key risks associated with misusing these products – stomach bleeding or ulcers – with a physician or pharmacist.

The survey of arthritis sufferers and heavy drinkers – those with increased risk for side effects due to prolonged use or overuse- also had interesting results:

— Nearly 60 percent of heavy drinkers (defined as those who consume three or more drinks a day, five or more times each month) said they were not concerned about OTC-related side effects.

— Two-thirds (65%) of heavy drinkers reported consuming alcohol the same day they took an OTC pain medication – almost 40 percent higher than those who do not drink heavily (27 percent).

— Only three in ten (29%) arthritis sufferers reported discussing risks of stomach bleeding or ulcers with a physician or pharmacist.

“It’s clear from these results that consumer education about risks is badly needed,” Golodner added. “Consumers are taking a chance by not understanding the potential risks involved with misusing these products. Pain sufferers should discuss their aches with a physician or pharmacist and decide together what treatments to use and for how long, even if the medicines are purchased without a prescription.”

The survey was conducted from December 16 to 29, 2002, via telephone by Harris Interactive® using a national cross-section of 4,263 adults (ages18+). Figures for age, sex, race, education, number of adults and number of voice/telephone lines in the household were weighted where necessary to align them with their actual proportions in the population. In theory, with a probability sample of this size, one can say with 95 percent certainty that the results have a statistical precision of plus or minus 1.5 percentage points of what they would be if the entire adult population had been polled with complete accuracy.

Survey results and a free brochure, “OTC Pain Meds: What Helps, What Hurts,” are available at The brochure is also available by calling toll-free 866-216-2316.

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Its mission is to identify, protect, represent, and advance the economic and social interests of consumers and workers. NCL is a private, nonprofit membership organization. For more information, visit



Carol McKay, 202-835-3323 ext.114