The other overdose crisis

Over-the-counter meds send 200,000 to hospital each year.

Drugstore+Chain+Walgreens+Buy+Duane+Reade+kMXtp8E7VgGlOverdoses from opioids have captured the national spotlight. And rightly so — they kill nearly 30,000 Americans a year and cause more than 1 million hospitalizations. Another overdose issue is playing outside their shadow: the misuse of over-the-counter pain medicines like acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, and others.

These widely used “safe” medications can cause serious gastrointestinal bleeding; create stomach ulcers; damage the esophagus, intestine, and liver; and even kill. In the United States, misuse of these medications sends nearly 200,000 people to the hospital each year.

Roughly 8 in 10 Americans routinely reach for over-the-counter pain pills to relieve headaches, backaches, sore muscles, fevers, or colds. Most are unaware that these medications can be just as dangerous as prescription drugs if used incorrectly. As a gastroenterologist, I often see patients who have overdosed on over-the-counter pain medicines. I’m not alone: A national poll by the American Gastroenterological Association found that my colleagues and I see on average nearly two patients per week with complications from over-the-counter pain pills.

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