Are young Aussies at risk from OTC analgesic use?

Nearly one third of young adults think OTC analgesics are “completely harmless” and one quarter take them for a non-indicated purpose, says intern pharmacist researcher

While analgesics are commonly used and “super accessible”, consequences for products such as paracetamol and NSAIDS are not always known, intern pharmacist and Griffith University graduate Tahlia Duyster told delegates of the National Medicines Symposium on Monday.

While young adults are beginning to navigate health for themselves, Ms Duyster said people in this age group can struggle to identify active ingredients in analgesics and interpret instructions.

This means they can be more likely to be exposed to analgesic-related harm.

Alongside a team of researchers from Griffith University’s School of Pharmacy, Ms Duyster conducted an online survey with two population subsets: school leavers (17-18 years old) and university students (17-25 years old).

The results showed most young adults made safe decisions in regard to analgesics. Over 40% of young adult respondents were aware of the harms of analgesics, with older individuals more aware of harms.

However nearly one third of respondents believed OTC analgesics are completely harmless.

Additionally, one quarter reported taking OTC analgesics for a non-indicated purpose, for example, relieving anxiety, sleep issues, allergy, infection, asthma and suicide attempt.

About 12% of young adults believed exceeding recommended doses gives a better effect.

“We did also note a more predominant ambivalence towards safety perception in the younger sub-population,” Ms Duyster said in her symposium talk.

Older participants were more aware about medicines safety but “our younger audience weren’t really fussed either way,” she explained.

“There are more than three million young adults in Australia,” said Ms Duyster. “Potential knowledge deficits could be leading to approximately 750,000 young adults exposed to analgesic-related harm, leading to potentially preventable strain on the healthcare system.

“Further studies investigating and addressing these deficits could really help with that preventable strain.”

The National Medicines Symposium was hosted virtually by NPS MedicineWise this week, and the theme for this year’s event was ‘Rising to the medication safety challenge’.

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