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Not just opioids: Americans abuse over-the-counter painkillers too, study finds

A study says nearly one out of five adult ibuprofen users admitted exceeded the maxiumum recommended dose of over-the-counter painkillers such as Advil during a one-week period.
A study says nearly one out of five adult ibuprofen users admitted exceeded the maxiumum recommended dose of over-the-counter painkillers such as Advil during a one-week period. AP

While the scourge of opioid addiction has long been a problem in the U.S., a Boston University researcher suggests that over-the-counter drugs, while not as serious a health risk, could pose a problem as well.

Nearly one out of five adult ibuprofen users exceeded the maxiumum recommended dose of ibuprofen or other Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as Advil, during a one-week period, according to a study published last month in Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety.

Dr. David Kaufman, lead researcher and a BU professor of epidemiology, had about 1,300 individuals who reported taking ibuprofen medication complete a daily diary of their use of such medicines for one week. The researchers compared the amount of pills they took with the recommended daily maximum dose, the study said.

The results showed that 15 percent of users took too many pills on at least one day of the week.

The personal characteristics associated with people more likely to exceed the recommended dosage included poor physical shape, daily smoking, chronic pain and “choosing my own dose” attitudes, according to the study. They tend to have a poor knowledge of the label recommendations.

They also took too much of a single medication, or took two different NSAIDs at the same time, researchers said.

“These drugs can have serious side effects, including gastrointestinal bleeding and heart attacks, and are often taken without medical oversight,” Kaufman told NBC News.

"The attitude that users can choose their own dose regardless of label directions, along with poor knowledge of dosing limits, is associated with exceeding the daily limit," he said.

Kaufman dispelled the idea that users might take over-the-counter pain medication to avoid using addictive opioids, The Chicago Tribune reported.

"My guess is that while avoidance of opioids may influence prescribing decisions by doctors, it may not affect consumer behavior very much,” he said.

Kaufman told The Tribune he believes some consumers may simply choose to take an excessive number of pills, regardless of what the label says.

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