Are you taking too much NyQuil? The surprising futility of drug labeling

June 02, 2015

Any box or bottle of over-the-counter (OTC) medicine lists its active ingredients prominently on the label. But are consumers using that information to make wise choices about taking two or more OTC drugs at the same time? Probably not, suggests a new study in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing.

"A consumer who takes a cold medicine containing, for instance, acetaminophen, may see nothing wrong with taking an additional medicine that also contains acetaminophen," write authors Jesse R. Catlin (California State University, Sacramento), Connie Pechmann (University of California, Irvine), and Eric P. Brass (UCLA). "But in that case, he or she will likely ingest at least 1300 mg of acetaminophen, and if those doses are repeated every 4-6 hours, the consumer will take in at least 5200 mg of acetaminophen per day, well over the limit."

Study participants included people with and without medical expertise. They were asked to read the labels on the packages of two different OTC drugs and report whether the two contained the same active ingredients. They were also asked to judge the risks of taking the two drugs at the same time. Both groups of participants--those with and without medical expertise--correctly determined whether the two drugs contained the same active ingredients. But only participants with medical expertise used that information to weigh the risks of taking two medications together.

In other words, the typical consumer, who is unlikely to have any medical expertise, may very well believe that there is no danger in taking any two OTC medications at the same time--even medications with the same active ingredients. This, the authors suggest, reflects the fact that the average person believes OTC drugs to be risk-free. Because of that "naïve" belief, most consumers are at risk of overdosing on nonprescription drugs. The authors suggest that standard labels be supplemented with public service announcements and explicit warnings on the labels themselves.

"Programs to educate the public on the risks of double-dosing must clearly emphasize that even over-the-counter medications can be dangerous when combined or misused. More broadly, this study suggests that it is vitally important for practitioners and policymakers to address safety issues by first working to understand what is at the root of the consumer's misunderstanding," conclude the authors.
-end-
Jesse R. Catlin, Cornelia (Connie) Pechmann, and Eric P. Brass. "Dangerous Double Dosing: How Naive Beliefs Can Contribute to Unintentional Overdose with Over-the-Counter Drugs." Forthcoming in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing. For more information, contact Jesse R. Catlin (jesse.catlin@csus.edu) or Mary-Ann Twist (mtwist@ama.org).

American Marketing Association

Related Consumers Articles from Brightsurf:

When consumers trust AI recommendations--or resist them
The key factor in deciding how to incorporate AI recommenders is whether consumers are focused on the functional and practical aspects of a product (its utilitarian value) or on the experiential and sensory aspects of a product (its hedonic value).

Do consumers enjoy events more when commenting on them?
Generating content increases people's enjoyment of positive experiences.

Why consumers think pretty food is healthier
People tend to think that pretty-looking food is healthier (e.g., more nutrients, less fat) and more natural (e.g., purer, less processed) than ugly-looking versions of the same food.

How consumers responded to COVID-19
The coronavirus pandemic has been a catalyst for laying out the different threats that consumers face, and that consumers must prepare themselves for a constantly shifting landscape moving forward.

Is less more? How consumers view sustainability claims
Communicating a product's reduced negative attribute might have unintended consequences if consumers approach it with the wrong mindset.

In the sharing economy, consumers see themselves as helpers
Whether you use a taxi or a rideshare app like Uber, you're still going to get a driver who will take you to your destination.

Helping consumers in a crisis
A new study shows that the central bank tool known as quantitative easing helped consumers substantially during the last big economic downturn -- a finding with clear relevance for today's pandemic-hit economy.

'Locally grown' broccoli looks, tastes better to consumers
In tests, consumers in upstate New York were willing to pay more for broccoli grown in New York when they knew where it came from, Cornell University researchers found.

Should patients be considered consumers?
No, and doing so can undermine efforts to promote patient-centered health care, write three Hastings Center scholars in the March issue of Health Affairs.

Consumers choose smartphones mostly because of their appearance
The more attractive the image and design of the telephone, the stronger the emotional relationship that consumers are going to have with the product, which is a clear influence on their purchasing decision.

Read More: Consumers News and Consumers Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.