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OTC gains popularity

Carolyn Poirot (The Fort Worth Star-Telegram) -- Consumers are taking health care into their own hands.

Fifty-nine percent of Americans say they are more likely to treat their own common ailments today than they were just a year ago, and 96 percent say they are generally confident in the health care decisions they make, a new Roper Starch survey shows.

Nearly 80 percent of Americans report using an over-the-counter medication in the past year to treat at least one health problem -- almost twice the number that either consulted a physician or took a prescription medication, according to the survey, conducted for the Consumer Healthcare Products Association.

"Self-reliance is a dominant theme of American lifestyles this millennium, especially in health care," said Dr. Michael Maves, president of the 120-year-old trade association representing U.S. manufacturers and distributors of nonprescription, over-the-counter medicines and dietary supplements.

"While there is no substitute for a physician, Americans are taking control of minor medical problems with safe, reliable over-the-counter medications," Maves said.

Brett Kay, director of food and health policy for the National Consumers League, said he is pleased by results of the survey, based on 1,505 interviews conducted by phone Jan. 8-21. They clearly show that Americans want to take care of themselves, and they know how and when to treat themselves as well as when to consult a health care professional, Kay said.

During a telephone conference call, Holly Heline, senior vice president of Roper Starch Worldwide, added: "There is a lot of frustration with depending on government, business or employers to solve problems, and that extends to health care problems. Americans are frustrated dealing with elites, including large medical institutions."

Maves said that when time off from work, transportation, parking and co-payments are factored in, self-medication is often more cost-effective.

And, he said, many drugs that were formerly available only by prescription are now available over the counter.

Eighty specific active ingredients, dosage forms and drug strengths have been switched from prescription or introduced as over-the-counter drugs since 1972, resulting in more than 700 new products marketed directly to the public.

Consumers have become more discerning as these medications have reached the market. Ninety-five percent of those surveyed read directions before they use a product for the first time, and almost 90 percent examine labels while at the store to help them choose the proper medication.

To help people use medications and nutrition supplements safely, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association has developed a four-point plan:

1. Always read product labels.
2. If you have questions, talk to a doctor, nurse or pharmacist.
3. Never misuse over-the-counter products by taking them longer or in higher doses than the label recommends. Symptoms that persist are a clear signal it is time to see a doctor.
4. Stop use and alert a physician if you think you have had a reaction to any medication or nutritional supplement.

(c) 2001 The Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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