More than 16,500 people die each year and 103,000 are hospitalized for serious complications caused by pain relievers known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), says the National Consumers League (NCL).
"People mistakenly assume that if a prescription is not required for a medication that is sold in a drugstore or a supermarket, then it must be safe," NCL president Linda Golodner says in a news release.
"As a result, consumers who too often self-diagnose and self-treat without seeking a doctor's advice unwittingly put themselves at risk for potentially deadly consequences," Golodner says.
The NCL has started a campaign to educate the estimated 30 million Americans who use NSAIDs about the possible dangers of the products. As part of the campaign launch, the NCL released results of national survey of people who use NSAIDs.
The survey found that 64 percent of the survey respondents are unconcerned about possible serious side effects caused by NSAIDs, including stomach bleeding or ulcers.
Only 5 percent of the respondents talked with their doctor about potential risks for serious side effects caused by NSAIDs (stomach bleeding, ulcers, kidney and liver problems), and two of five respondents said they'd never talked with a doctor, pharmacist or health professional about such medicines.
Nearly 30 percent of the respondents said they don't usually read instructions on the labels because they think they already know what to take.
The NCL campaign to educate people about the dangers of over-the-counter painkillers will include public service announcements and consumer education. A new brochure about the painkillers is available at the NCL.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has more information about over-the-counter drugs.