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Nonprescription Medicines and Products - Topic Overview

A nonprescription medicine-sometimes called an over-the-counter, or OTC, medicine-is any drug that you can buy without a doctor's prescription. But don't assume that all nonprescription drugs are safe for you. These drugs can interact with other medicines and can sometimes cause serious health problems. And if you take more than the normal or recommended amount, overdose may occur.

Some medicines should only be used by adults or older children. Be sure to read the package instructions carefully slideshow.gif, or ask a pharmacist before giving any product to an infant or young child. If you are pregnant, always check with your pharmacist or doctor before using any nonprescription medicine, to make sure it is safe to use during pregnancy.

Carefully read the label of any nonprescription drug you use, especially if you also take prescription medicines for other health problems. Ask your pharmacist for help in finding a nonprescription drug best suited to your needs. Use these tips on how to avoid common medicine problems.

And find out the safest way to throw away medicines that are expired or no longer used. Use these drug disposal tips to help prevent people and animals from taking medicines that aren't intended for them:

  • Find out if your local trash and recycle center, pharmacy, or hospital offers a medicine take-back program or a place to drop off medicine. Ask your pharmacist if he or she knows of one. These are two of the best ways to safely throw away medicines.
  • If there is not a take-back program or drop-off box near you, follow these steps to throw away medicine with the rest of your garbage:
    1. Mix medicine with a substance that doesn't taste good, such as cat litter, sawdust, or coffee grounds. Do not crush tablets or capsules.
    2. Place the mixture in a container, such as a sealed plastic bag.
    3. Put the container in your household trash.

Some common nonprescription medicines include:

  • Antacids and acid reducers.
  • Bulking agents, laxatives, and stool softeners.
  • Antidiarrheals.
  • Cold and allergy remedies.
  • Pain relievers.

These drugs can be very helpful when used properly but can cause serious problems if used incorrectly. The following tips will help you use common nonprescription drugs wisely and safely. In some cases, you may find that you don't need to take them at all.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: September 09, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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