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Over-the-Counter Drugs Need Ongoing Review

The benefits of making drugs more easily available may be outweighed by the risks

FRIDAY, March 28 (HealthDay News) -- The benefits of making drugs accessible through over-the-counter sales must be constantly reviewed in light of adverse reaction information that subsequently becomes available, according to an article published in the March 29 issue of BMJ.

Robin E. Ferner, M.D., of City Hospital in Birmingham, U.K., and Keith Beard, of Victoria Infirmary in Glasgow, U.K., review the current legislation regarding granting of over-the-counter status to drugs in the United Kingdom, and examine the pros and cons of wider drug availability.

The benefits of over-the-counter approval are easier access to treatments for minor conditions and drugs that must be used quickly, such as post-coital contraception, lower costs to government and insurers, and less pressure on general physicians. However, over-the-counter access can lead to inaccurate self-diagnosis by patients and only perfunctory supervision of sales.

"The safety of over-the-counter medicines has to be continually reviewed, even though this is difficult in practice," the authors write. "Since health care professionals may not be involved, we have to rely on patients to report adverse effects. The U.K. regulatory agency's new simplified yellow card system inviting patients to report adverse drug reactions could therefore be helpful."

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