Pharmacists could help adolescents gain an understanding of common OTC medicines and prevent misuse and misadventure later in life, a new study suggests
A pilot intervention to improve the understanding of safe and appropriate over-the-counter analgesic use in adolescents was presented in a poster session at the recent National Medicines Symposium in Canberra.
Master of Pharmacy student and co-author Cameron Press told the AJP that high school students who leave school at Year Ten only have a 30% chance of understanding health-related information. In 2012-13, 3935 young people (aged under 24) were hospitalised with poisoning due to non-opioid analgesics.
The researchers decided to develop an education intervention for adolescents to help them understand how to use OTC analgesics safely and effectively.
“The idea was that health literacy is too big to tackle as a single project,” Mr Press said; the team identified OTC analgesia as an area which needed attention.
“It was about developing an intervention that would potentially help them understand the medication that they’re taking: what to take, what’s appropriate and then essentially if they’re no longer needing it, to dispose of it properly as well.
“So we developed a 40-minute session, taking them through specifically how to identify the actual ingredients across multiple brands, and how to calculate the maximum tablets they can take if they’re using two different brands.”
The third area covered was when to take medication: for example “one now and another in six hours’ time, and actually calculating that”.
The researchers were seeking to evaluate student engagement, and then take the concept to secondary schools and discuss the benefits of such an intervention in Personal Development/Physical Education classes.
A pilot was conducted with 67 students who attended Griffith University. The researchers tested the students’ understanding of medication instructions with self-administered surveys before and after the intervention. Of the attendees, 46 completed the post-survey.
The students demonstrated a high understanding of side-effects risk, appropriateness of use, and maximum recommended tablets in 24 hours from OTC medication packaging.
“We’ve seen some statistical significance in both active ingredient identification and calculating the maximum dose – the time thing was a little bit harder,” Mr Press said.
The pilot study concluded that it was “feasible and acceptable” to deliver an intervention on OTC analgesic use to adolescents, and that the preliminary results will inform piloting of the intervention in the secondary school setting.
“Overall the students showed that they enjoyed it, that even as a [pharmacy] student-led session there’s enough knowledge,” Mr Press said.
“It’s now being extended a bit further, to actually see how is the platform that we have going to be of interest from secondary schools… what modifications may we need to take to try and implement it into, say a PDH or a PE unit.”
These units already cover “a lot of drinking, sexual ed, illicit drugs – but we’re not really teaching them about the drugs or medications that they will need going forward,” Mr Press says.
“It’s about giving them a bit of a platform there first and seeing where it will lead.
“We have been really good teaching people about medications; unfortunately it’s when they finally get to hospital or something has already gone wrong.
“And there’s not a lot on paracetamol overdosing – how many of those can we catch beforehand if we’re teaching people what to look out for? How many of those can we reduce so that we’re not needing to educate them at the hospital about what they’ve done?
“It’s trying to be more proactive at a younger age… they’re the skills that they will take with them for the rest of their lives.
“So get in early while they’re learning, and try and save them when they’re 40, 50 and they’re still getting it wrong.”