AGA survey finds more patient education needed about OTC pain meds



With patients indicating that they are regularly ignoring dosing guidelines on over-the-counter pain medications, the American Gastroenterological Association is calling for better patient education, including a more active role for doctors.

In particular, AGA is asking doctors to be more proactive in understanding how their patients are using over-the-counter pain medications after a survey revealed that 43% of respondents who suffer from chronic pain said that they knowingly have taken more than the recommended dose, with 28% saying they have experienced complications due to OTC pain medication overdose.

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“Patients are self-medicating and actually ignoring the dosing guidelines,” Dr. Charles Melbern Wilcox, professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said during a Jan. 25 teleconference to talk about the survey results. “Commonly, patients are unaware of overdose symptoms or not connecting their symptoms to over-the-counter pain medicine overdose or overusage. Patients are presenting with nausea, abdominal pain, and stomach ulcers due to over-the-counter pain medicine overdose and overuse. Patients with chronic pain are often taking multiple medications.”

AGA hosted the conference call as part of the “Gut Check: Know Your Medicine” campaign to encourage educating consumers on the proper usage and risks associated with OTC pain medication. The survey of 1,015 adults aged 30 years or older (479 were currently experiencing chronic pain at the time of the survey) and 251 licensed gastroenterologists conducted as part of the campaign occurred in September and October 2015.

Additionally, chronic pain sufferers also are taking multisymptom OTC products for allergy, cold, and flu symptoms that could cause the extra intake of pain medication.

“Our survey findings suggest that providers give more attention to patients with chronic pain since they are likely to take more than the recommended dose and also to take more than one pain medicine,” Dr. Byron Cryer, assistant dean for faculty diversity and development at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, said during the call to discuss the survey results and AGA campaign to promote OTC pain medication awareness. “Providers should work with patients to determine the best treatment options that address the patient’s pain while using medicines safely.”

Dr. Cryer noted that health care professionals “must start asking simple direct questions about pain medicine use each time they see a patient and must lead the way to improve the lines of communication.”

He added that having these active conversations about pain medications, both OTC and prescribed, can provide the necessary warnings about the products that “are likely to be remembered by patients” and will allow doctors to provide follow-up timing and instructions if the pain does not subside in a certain amount of time.

Another survey finding that is adding to the call for more patient education is that, according to the survey’s executive summary, most chronic pain sufferers “say they don’t always read the full Drug Facts label on an OTC pain medicine they haven’t taken before (66%) and many say the directions on the labels of OTC pain medicines are really just guidelines – they know what works for them (43%).”

Additionally, the survey found that 27% of chronic pain sufferers “are willing to take more of an OTC pain medicine than directed because they incorrectly believe their symptoms will disappear faster.”

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