the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) recently reported a study by Harvard-affiliated physicians that found when a prescription drug switches to over the counter (OTC) balanced advertising does not always follow. Many people assume that all OTC drugs are safe for most people. That is not always the case. William Churchill, chief of pharmacy services at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital said, “Every person has a unique set of circumstances, a unique set of disease states, is taking different drugs, and reacts to medications in a unique way. You can’t say that just because a drug that is safe for someone else, it will be safe for you.” So why does information to the consumer change when drugs go to OTC? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for prescription drug advertising. All side effects and interactions found in clinical trials of a medication are required to be included in each ad. OTC advertising however, is overseen by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC only requires ads to meet a “reasonable consumer” standard of truthfullness.  Consequently, ads for OTC medications tend to present a positive side, without communicating possible harmful effects.

It is probable that more prescription drugs will switch over to OTC in the future – it’s important your healthcare provider knows all the medications you are taking. Churchill suggests that while you are in the grocery store or pharmacy and are in a quandary about a certain OTC ask the pharmacist.  “Every pharmacist is trained to serve as a resource about drug therapy, so don’t be afraid to ask,” says Churchill……..Harvard Health Publications    9/25/12

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