Consumer views on safety of over-the-counter drugs, preferred retailers and information sources in Sweden: after re-regulation of the pharmacy market

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Nonprescription Drugs, Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice, Community Pharmacy Services, Government Regulation, Patient Safety, Pharmacies, Surveys and Questionnaires, Sweden


Background: The availability of over-the-counter drugs (OTCs) has increased in Sweden since a re-regulation of the pharmacy market in 2009, through which non-pharmacy retailers became permitted to provide certain OTCs.

Objective: To examine the adult general public’s views on safety, purchasing and information channels, storage and disposal of OTCs in Sweden, three years after the re-regulation of the pharmacy market.

Methods: A questionnaire study in 2012-13 in a stratified, random sample of all inhabitants in Sweden ≥ 18 years old.

Results: Totally 8,302 people (42%) answered the questionnaire. Seven percent found OTCs completely harmless regardless of how they are being used, 18% felt they should be used only on health professionals’ recommendation. Differences in how OTCs are perceived were however found with regards to respondents’ country of birth, family type, educational level and income. The pharmacy was still the preferred OTC drug retailer by 83% of the respondents and preferred information source by 80% Reasons for preferred retailers were primarily due to out of habit (45%), counseling provided (35%), the product range (34%) and the confidence in staff (27%). Analgesics are the most common OTCs to have at home (90%). The bathroom cabinet is the primary site for storage (42%) and 16% throw their OTC leftovers in the trash.

Conclusions: The study population does not consider OTCs as harmless regardless of how they are used, but on the other hand feels they should not be taken on health professionals’ recommendation only. The pharmacy is still the preferred retailer and information source, and there is room for further improvement in the storage and disposal of OTCs. A return of OTC drug leftovers to the pharmacy should be further encouraged. Due to several limitations, great caution should however be observed when generalizing the results to the adult population of Sweden.

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