Aim: To investigate the abuse of non-prescription (over-the-counter; OTC) products in Northern Ireland.
Method: A structured questionnaire covering various aspects of OTC drug abuse was mailed to all 509 community pharmacies in Northern Ireland.
Results: 253 responses were received (response rate 49.7%) after two mailings. Pharmacists named 112 OTC products they perceived were being abused in Northern Ireland. These were classified into 8 groups, with opioids, antihistamines and laxatives the most frequently reported. The frequency of abuse of all product groups was perceived to be either increasing or static. The number of clients suspected of abuse over a three-month period ranged from 0 to 700 (median = 10, mode = 6) with 55% being regular customers. Pharmacists employed several methods to limit patient access to products of abuse. The most common technique was to keep the product out of sight. Others included additional client questioning, providing advice and limiting the quantity of product sold. The majority of respondents agreed their role could be extended to include other methods of dealing with abusers, including participation in harm-reduction programmes to wean abusers off products. Geographical region and location of pharmacy were not significant factors in the abuse of OTC products.
Conclusions: Pharmacists in Northern Ireland perceive abuse and misuse of OTC products to be occurring in practice. Current methods employed for dealing with it are inadequate. Research into methods of effectively dealing with OTC abuse/misuse is required and has commenced on the basis of these findings.