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Paging Dr. Gupta: OTC Abuse

Aired September 19, 2003 - 08:42   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Research suggests that half of Americans combine over-the-counter drugs with prescription medicines. It is a dangerous trend, and now there's a new campaign to try to reverse it.
Medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is at the CNN Center with more on this this morning.

Good morning to you -- Sanjay.


There's about 100,000 over-the-counter medications out there, and they can get confusing for just about anybody. So, as you said, there is a campaign out there. It's actually started in part by the Surgeon General's office and in part by the National Council on Patient Information Education. They have their own prescription, if you will, to try and help people wade through the sometimes confusing information with regards to prescription drugs.

A couple of facts they point out, one you already sort of mentioned, 51 percent of people take over-the-counter medications and prescription drugs together. That can sometimes be a problem, because a lot of times the active ingredients can be the same. I'm going to give you a couple of examples of that.

Forty-eight percent have taken more than the recommended dose of an over-the-counter medication, as well. An important thing to point out about that, Soledad, is obviously not everybody is the same. So if people are different weights, different shapes and sizes, they're going to require different medications. But we're going to talk a little bit about how to sort of wade through that as well.

Let me give you an example of the prescription in the over-the- counter medications. Tylenol, for example, is a medication that a lot of people know about. It's a medication people -- a lot of people take for headaches. And when you're thinking about Tylenol, it has the active ingredient acetaminophen, which is also the same active ingredient found in a lot of prescription medications. If you're getting too much of this acetaminophen, it can cause problems with your liver, and that can happen if you are combining Tylenol with a prescription medication.

Aleve, the next medication over here, a lot of people don't recognize that this medication is actually Naprosyn. That's the active ingredient, Naprosyn. Again, a lot of people combining Aleve and Naprosyn together causing problems with GI upset and things like that.

St. John's Wort, an herbal medication, actually people take it to elevate their mood. It has a mood elevator. Oftentimes they take it in conjunction with an anti-depressant. Well guess what, a lot of times you can actually get a syndrome of too much Serotonin in your body by actually taking these medications, which can actually have a depressant sort of effect as opposed to the mood elevation.

So you can -- you can sort of see the problem there, Soledad. Over-the-counter medication, just because they're over-the-counter, just because you don't need a prescription, doesn't necessarily mean that they're always safe -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Well, Sanjay, then you've set up the problem really nicely, but then how do you set up the solution? Are you -- you know I would imagine most people aren't reading every single ingredient that's on the bottle of not only their prescription drug but also the drug, the over-the-counter drug, as well. Should you call your doctor every time you want to take something over the counter?

GUPTA: Well there is a lot of information on these particular labels. And there are some good questions to sort of ask yourself as you're getting ready to purchase a medication. I think a lot of people start to do the purchasing of medications without fully reading the labels. You already sort of touched on one. So, but read that label.

Take -- or actually we jumped ahead here. But ask your doctor, mentioning that, ask about the specific medicines that are available for symptoms, how much of the particular medicine should they be taking.

But let me also say as well that reading the labels is important because if you look carefully, you're going to find out what the active ingredient is in a particular label. And if the active ingredients are the same in your prescriptions as they are in your over-the-counter medications, you may be getting too much of the medication.

Also, take medications only to treat the particular symptoms that you're having. If you're having congestion, then get a decongestant. People oftentimes take a decongestant, a pain reliever and a sleep medication all at the same time, when in fact only the problem was congestion.

Also, make sure to tell your doctor if you're taking a medication, even as seemingly innocuous as aspirin, for example. Aspirin is a blood thinner. That's part of the reason it's given to people with heart disease and problems with stroke. If you're taking aspirin, oftentimes you're not going to be a candidate for elective surgery, for example. A doctor may want to take you off that medication before scheduling an operation. So every medication can be important.

I recently had to cancel an operation because somebody was on Metabolife, Soledad. Metabolife is actually a blood thinner as well. So try and educate yourself. Again, just because it's over the counter doesn't mean don't read the labels. It doesn't mean that it's always entirely safe -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: And your pharmacist, I have to imagine, Sanjay, is a really good source of information, as well. When you're picking up the over-the-counter thing, just ask.

Sanjay, thanks so much.

GUPTA: Absolutely. Right.

O'BRIEN: We need to plug your show, also. "WEEKEND HOUSE CALL,"...

GUPTA: All right.

O'BRIEN: ... Saturday and Sunday, 8:30 a.m. Eastern, 5:30 a.m. Pacific Time on CNN. And Saturday's topic is this, over-the-counter drug safety.

Sanjay, thanks, as always.


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