Strategies for preventing abuse of over-the-counter (OTC) medications were discussed recently during the latest instalment of the Grand Rounds Series hosted by Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar (WCM-Q).

Dr Shane Pawluck
Dr Shane Pawluck

Dr Shane Pawluck, Assistant Professor of Clinical Pharmacy and Practice of the College of Pharmacy at Qatar University, discussed which over-the-counter (OTC) medications have the greatest potential for abuse, the harms associated with OTC medication abuse, and the ways healthcare professionals can intervene to prevent or address such abuse.

Speaking before an audience of students and fellow healthcare professionals, Dr Pawluck said that there is a movement towards deregulation and increased access to more OTC products in the West.

One of the issues here is that several different research studies has proven that the public perceive OTC medications as generally safer than prescription products, which is one of the reasons we find ourselves in the situation where we have some issues with abuse and misuse of these agents.’

Dr Pawluck described some commonly abused OTC medications, such as certain classes of cough suppressants, antihistamine drugs and decongestants that are abused to obtain effects such as feelings of euphoria, stimulation or sedation. Harmful side-effects of taking more than the recommended dose of one commonly abused substance – dextromethorphan – include hyperthermia (overheating), excessive sweating, high blood pressure, elevated heart rate, visual and auditory disturbances, loss of muscle control, fatigue, psychosis, seizures and even coma.

Dr Pawluck explained that drug misuse, or using a medication more frequently in greater amounts or over a longer time period than recommended, is distinct from abuse, which is intended, and for the purpose of achieving a desirable psychological or physiological effect. He discussed strategies for addressing the problem, which include encouraging clinicians to talk to patients in detail about the use of OTC medications, encouraging safe disposal after the ailment has been treated, better documentation of OTC use, and of available OTC abuse treatment/detox programmes.

The lecture was accredited locally by Qatar Council for Healthcare Practitioners-Accreditation Department (QCHP-AD) and by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education. Visit the qatar-weill.cornell.edu for more information about their Grand Rounds series.