Over-The-Counter Drug Abuse: Do More to Raise Awareness of Serious Health Risks

Abuse of over-the-counter medicines, such as cold remedies, is becoming a serious problem among young people. In many cases, people take large quantities of such drugs just to feel a sense of euphoria, which can lead to health problems.

The government and the pharmaceutical industry should work together to consider effective countermeasures.

The number of people who overdose on medicines has reportedly been increasing recently. According to a survey conducted by a study group of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, 80% of the people who were transported to hospital emergency rooms due to poisoning by over-the-counter drugs were in their 10s or 20s, and most of them were women.

Taking over-the-counter drugs is not a problem if the dosage and administration are handled as directed, but some drugs if taken in large doses can cause clouding of consciousness and organ failure, which can be fatal.

In many cases, people take over-the-counter drugs because of false information online, such as claims the drugs will let them “forget about unpleasant things.” Thorough efforts must be made to raise awareness so people will not casually take such drugs.

The health ministry has designated six ingredients that pose a risk of addiction and requires, in principle, that only one box of over-the-counter drugs containing those ingredients be sold per person. The name and age of a young person must be verified before the individual can purchase such drugs, but abuse is not adequately contained at this time.

The ministry is currently studying ways to strengthen regulations. Proposed ideas include recording the name and age of purchasers when selling drugs at such outlets as drugstores and putting drugs on store shelves that customers cannot access directly.

Discussions should be held on whether the time and effort required to implement these measures would be commensurate with the expected results.

There have been reports of acute poisoning and addiction from large doses of some cough medicines and hay fever remedies that do not contain the ingredients designated by the ministry. There may be room for consideration of expanding the scope of the designation.

Recent research found that high school students who had abused over-the-counter drugs spent more time online and were unable to talk about their problems with friends or parents. There was also a tendency for them to feel highly stressed from self-restraint in their lives following the COVID-19 outbreak.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have caused more young people to have less contact with others and feel more isolated. Some experts have argued that young people overdosing on over-the-counter drugs is a sign that they are looking for help.

It is important not only to educate and raise awareness and strengthen sales regulations, but also to take measures to provide emotional support for these young people at the same time.

Pharmacists and others who have contact with young people at pharmacies and drugstores that sell over-the-counter drugs should take such steps as actively talking to them and providing them with information about support groups for young people.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 20, 2023)