Over-the-counter (OTC), or nonprescription, medicines are products that consumers can purchase in pharmacies, supermarkets and other retail stores as well as online without a prescription.1 OTC medicines are deemed safe and effective treatments by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other health authorities around the world. These medicines treat common, self-treatable health conditions and symptoms such as the common cold, minor pain, allergies, and other conditions that impact large segments of the population.2 OTC medicines are a critical component in advancing consumer health because they allow people to treat or manage many health conditions conveniently and successfully. Because they enable people to self-treat, OTC medicines save health systems valuable resources and can save consumers time and money. While OTC medicines are an important part of the care continuum, a healthcare professional’s advice should always be sought for serious conditions, or when common ailments persist. OTC medicines have played a significant role in expanded access to safe and effective treatments in developing regions of the world. Many people in these regions do not have access to health services and rely heavily on self-care and self-medication, and OTC medications provide valuable resources to address health conditions.3
OTC medicines provide consumers safe and effective treatments for commonly occurring conditions, saving them time and money that might otherwise be invested in other, more expensive health services.
Societal Health Impact OTC medicines provide easier access to treatment options for common conditions, offering not only convenience, but also timely treatment and relief for sudden symptoms or minor ailments.4 Research shows that 81 percent of adults use OTC medicines as a first response to minor ailments. And one U.S. study analyzing the seven most common acute and chronic, self-treatable conditions found that 92 percent of those who use OTC medicines in a given year would seek other, likely more expensive, treatment elsewhere if OTCs were not available.2 If OTC medicines were not available, the increase in consumers seeking prescriptions for self-treatable conditions would cause a surge in office visits that would require 56,000 additional full-time medical professionals to accommodate.
Not only are OTC medicines important to ensuring that consumers have the ability to access care that can be self-managed outside of a doctor’s office, but they are important to fulfilling consumers growing desire to treat their own medical conditions. A survey that tracks the opinions of European consumers found that nine out of 10 consumers view self-care as a vital part of preventing both minor ailments and chronic health conditions and managing their symptoms.5 As the health care landscape evolves and consumers more proactively seek health information, use new technologies, and expect to live longer and more productive lives, OTC medicines are an important way to meet these demands and engage consumers in their own health care. This is especially important given that evidence has shown that patients who are more actively engaged in their health care experience better health outcomes and lower costs.