Consumers lack proper knowledge about the use of over-the-counter drugs, experts say.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, are among the most common medications used to treat acute pain and chronic pain, but a new study suggests people do not know how to use them properly.

Previous research has shown that since ibuprofen became a ‘general sales’ item, sales have increased, but so too have the number of patients inappropriately using the product.

The new study, conducted across a number of NSW pharmacies, investigated consumer knowledge about commonly purchased products containing ibuprofen, specifically Nurofen and Nurofen Plus.

The research showed that the majority of consumers could correctly identify ibuprofen as an active ingredient in these products and knew the correct intervals between doses.

But almost a third could not correctly identify the safe maximum daily dose, were unaware of potential contraindications, while less than half of those surveyed recognised potential side effects associated with taking these products.

The lack of knowledge of the side effects of ibuprofen were particularly concerning, said Associate Professor Judy Mullan from the University of Wollongong.

“Many consumers believed that because these products are readily available over-the-counter in pharmacies and several retail outlets that they don’t have any side effects,” she said.

“Our concern is that people take them without being mindful of the fact that they can cause kidney failure and gastrointestinal harm if not taken appropriately.

“This, coupled with the lack of knowledge about recommended maximum dosages and potential contraindications, is a major public health issue and a real cause for concern.”

The study came up with some recommendations to increase consumer knowledge of over-the-counter NSAIDS, including;

  • better targeting for consumers who are poorly educated
  • increasing the number of information sources that explain the safe and effective use of the products
  • a possible redesign for ibuprofen packaging for people with poor functional health literacy
  • increasing the role all healthcare practitioners play in educating consumers about the potential harm associated with taking these products

“A combination of strategies to improve the knowledge gap would help to reinforce public awareness of the possible adverse effects associated with taking these products inappropriately,” Associate Professor Mullan said.