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The Danger of the Known: OTC Drugs

Government of India has issued a gazette notification for seeking suggestions from the stakeholders regarding the decision to cover 16 drugs under OTC (over the counter) category. Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines can be sold directly to people without a prescription from healthcare professionals. The OTC medicines are used to treat minor illnesses and their symptoms, including pain, coughs and colds, diarrhea, constipation, acne, and others.

The decision holds importance as we have faced the four waves of COVID-19 pandemic and are on the verge of next wave. Since 2020, the outbreak of pandemic the world has faced sudden rise in demand of OTC drugs

There is a widespread misconception that OTC medicines are less harmful than the prescription drugs. These drugs also have active ingredients with the potential for misuse at higher-than-recommended dosages. Easy availability of drugs in many instances can cause self-afflicted abuse or harm any other individual. There are three types of harmful consequences that can arise due to illicit usage,

  1. Direct Harm

    The pharmacological action of the drug that is intended can cause physiological harms in certain conditions. For instance, it is observed that the combination of paracetamol and codeine can cause gastric ulcers, hypokalemia and renal acidosis.

  2. Indirect Harm

    Drug allergies or over dosage can lead to unexpected adverse events in case of over the counter consumption of drugs related to pain, analgesics, antihistamines, laxatives or decongestants.

  3. Long term effects

    Addiction and drug abuse can cost lives. Also, overdose can cause accidents, hamper relationships and financial burden.

After the COVID-19 pandemic, the role of the Internet is significant as it causes diffusion of emerging trends for drug abuse and experiments. Also, the marketing and sale through online pharmacies can cause unaccountable usage of OTC drugs. As at retail pharmacies the pharmacists can report the trend for misuse but the online platforms would be unable to do so. It is of dire need that such notifications must be reverted with research and survey based inputs for discarding the categorization of 16 drugs under OTC to curb the unaccountable usage.