Four out of five American adults commonly take over-the-counter medications, most often to treat ailments like aches and pains, coughs and colds, fever, allergies, skin disorders, and heartburn and other digestive problems. The reasons are easy to understand. O.T.C.s are convenient, readily available in groceries and big box stores as well as pharmacies, and they are less expensive than going to the doctor and perhaps paying for a costly prescription.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, there are more than 300,000 over-the-counter drug products on the market, a number that continues to grow as an increasing number of medications move from prescription to O.T.C. status. According to the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, an industry trade group, since 1975, more than 100 ingredients, indications or dosage strengths have transitioned from prescription to O.T.C. status.
Last year, Americans spent about $44 billion on O.T.C. drugs which, the industry claims, saved the health care system about $102 billion in doctor visits, diagnostic tests and prescription medications.
In addition to saving consumers time and money, O.T.C.s give many people a sense of self-