Partnership for Self-Care Links Consumers With Pharmacists; Offers Free Tools


WASHINGTON, Sept. 28 /PRNewswire/ -- A new initiative from the nation's largest association of pharmacists and a leading consumer healthcare company is working to protect Americans against drug-drug interactions involving over- the-counter (OTC) medications, an emerging healthcare concern linked to the burgeoning trend in self-medication and the more than 300,000 OTC products now available in the United States.

Drug-drug interactions occur when a drug interacts, or interferes, with another drug and can alter the way one or both of the drugs act in the body, or cause unexpected side effects. The drugs involved can be prescriptions, OTCs and even vitamins and herbal products.

"Unfortunately, patient awareness of drug-drug interactions involving over-the-counter medications or herbal remedies remains low," said Janet P. Engle, PharmD, trustee of the American Pharmaceutical Association (APhA), co- sponsor of the new initiative.

Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it will require OTC drugs to carry a "Drug Facts" panel that provides clear, simple and readable information, using a format that places the warning information more prominently and directs patients to consult with their physician or pharmacist. Products with the new labeling format should begin appearing on retail shelves within the next two years.

Changing Marketplace

Since the mid-1970s, 79 prescription medications have switched to OTC status, and 36 of these switches have occurred in the 1990s alone. It is estimated that approximately one-third of American consumers use an OTC medicine at least every other day. Adding to the possibility of interactions is the increasing use of herbal supplements, which when combined with OTC or prescription medicines may sometimes reduce a drug's effectiveness or cause other complications.

"Just because a medicine can be purchased over-the-counter or it's 'natural,' doesn't mean it's automatically safe to combine with any other drug," continued Dr. Engle. "Mix the wrong two together, and you may end up with nausea, headache, dizziness, heartburn -- or in some cases, much more serious health problems like bleeding or a dangerous drop in blood pressure."

Partnership for Self-Care -- Focus on Drug-Drug Interactions

To help consumers use OTC medicines responsibly and safely, the APhA and McNeil Consumer Healthcare formed the Partnership for Self-Care -- a three- year consumer education initiative that leverages the knowledge and accessibility of pharmacists. As part of the Partnership, more than 50,000 pharmacists have been armed with the latest scientific review of drug-drug interactions involving OTC medications, as well as free tools for their patients.

A 1998 consumer survey conducted by Yankelovich Partners on behalf of the APhA indicated that nearly half of those polled (48%) were unaware of the potential risks from taking an OTC pain reliever and a prescription medication at the same time. This lack of awareness prompted the APhA and McNeil Consumer Healthcare to highlight drug-drug interactions as part of this year's Partnership for Self-Care efforts.

Drug interactions are a complex area for health care providers as well as for their patients. "Certainly many people are aware of 'classic' interactions like the blood thinner warfarin (e.g., Coumadin® and aspirin," continued Dr. Engle. "Patients on these blood thinners who are carefully monitored might be prescribed low dose aspirin daily for their heart, but in general it is wiser to use acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol® for pain relief in these patients."

Another common example of an over-the-counter and prescription interaction is that between antacids and antibiotics. Popular products containing magnesium and aluminum (e.g., Maalox® or Mylanta® can bind antibiotics like tetracycline and Cipro®, making them less powerful in the fight against infection. "In this case, people should separate their doses of these medicines by at least two hours," recommends Dr. Engle.

What Consumers Need to Know

According to the Partnership for Self-Care, there are four key messages consumers need to know to avoid drug-drug interactions and use OTC medicines safely and effectively:

1. Read the label each time you take any medicine.

2. Know the benefits and potential risks of what you are taking.

3. Keep a personal medication record listing both your OTC and prescription drugs and share it with your physician and pharmacist.

4. Remember to talk to your pharmacist if you have any questions.

Beginning the month of October, the Partnership for Self-Care will be offering a free brochure featuring tips on avoiding drug-drug interactions and a Personal Medication Record to help consumers keep track of their over-the- counter and prescription medicines. Consumers can receive the materials and test their own self-care savvy by logging onto

Who is at Risk?

The risk of experiencing a drug-drug interaction depends largely on how many medications an individual is taking. As a result, patients with chronic medical conditions (such as hypertension, coronary heart disease or diabetes), elderly patients and children are at increased risk for significant and sometimes serious drug interactions involving OTC and prescription medicines.

"Remember this: if you interact with your pharmacist before you take any drug -- even one that's over-the-counter -- you're more likely to avoid a drug interaction later," continued Engle.

About the Partnership's Sponsors

The American Pharmaceutical Association is the first established and largest professional association of pharmacists in the United States. APhA's more than 53,000 members include practicing pharmacists, pharmaceutical scientists, pharmacy students, pharmacy technicians, and others interested in advancing the profession. The Association is a leader in providing professional information and education for pharmacists and an advocate for improved health through the provision of comprehensive pharmaceutical care.

McNeil Consumer Healthcare, headquartered in Fort Washington, PA, is a member of the Johnson & Johnson family of companies. McNeil's OTC pain reliever franchise is one of the most extensive and comprehensive of any company in the world, with its Tylenol® and Motrin® brands.

SOURCE: McNeil Consumer Healthcare
CO: McNeil Consumer Healthcare
ST: District of Columbia, Pennsylvania

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