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Colorado State Flag
Monday, January 30, 2023  

Americans overdosing Elderly highest risk Published 2/25/2003

by Mike Lee

Americans are grabbing that bottle of painkillers a little too often and taking too much, according to a newly-released study.

Eighty-four percent of Americans admitted to taking an over-the-counter painkiller last year and 44 percent exceeded the recommended dose, according to a survey from Harris Interactive and the National Consumers League.

"It doesn’t really surprise me," said Exempla Lutheran Manager of Pharmacy Services Jennifer Davis. "I don’t think the general public is aware of the general dosing limits of products."

The over-the-counter painkiller most often reached for is ibuprofen and naproxen, according to the study, but the study also warned of improper use by 30 million consumers who take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

The survey polled 4,263 adults – the most comprehensive number ever. Spread across the population that would mean approximately 175 million adult Americans reach for over-the-counter pain relief.

Studies have shown 16,500 people die each year and an additional 103,000 are hospitalized from complications that arise due to taking NSAIDs.

NSAIDs are particularly troublesome because of their tendency to double or even triple the risk of stomach bleeding or ulcers and side effects that can occur without warning.

Elderly patients are at a greater risk because they most often used NSAIDs to combat rheumatoid arthritis. But only 29 percent of arthritis sufferers reported talking to their physician or pharmacist about the risks involved.

But the elderly are not alone. The study found that 80 percent of over-the-counter painkiller users did not talk about risks with their physician or pharmacist.

Half of those surveyed who had taken painkillers in the last year said they were not concerned about side effects. Forty-five percent agreed that it was more important to control pain regardless of side effects.

Only 16 percent who took painkillers admitted that they had read the entire warning label.

The survey also pointed out the dangers of overdosing through products taken in conjunction with painkillers. Forty-five percent of those who had taken over-the-counter painkillers said they did not see the harm in taking them with cold or flu medications. Thirty-four percent of the respondents also said they thought it was safe to mix over-the-counter painkillers with prescription medication.

Acetaminophen, found in a number of over-the-counter products, can be especially troublesome for patients. The generally recognized guideline among healthcare professionals is to not exceed more than 4 grams of acetaminophen a day.

Davis said long-term use of acetaminophen has been attributed to long-lasting liver disease.

The study pointed out that a large number of consumers don’t follow painkiller guidelines.

Davis said there are two guidelines consumers need to follow. The first is the recommended dosage and the second is the total daily dosage. Some people follow the first guideline, but aren’t aware of the second, Davis said.

Help is on the way for consumers. Davis said the Food and Drug Administration will be putting into affect more stringent labeling guidelines for products. The maximum daily dosages should be more clearly marked on the new labels.

Anyone with questions about interactions with painkillers or dosing guidelines can go online to

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