How and why are non-prescription analgesics used in Scotland?

Fam Pract. 2005 Feb;22(1):78-85. doi: 10.1093/fampra/cmh719. Epub 2005 Jan 7.


Background: UK Government policy increasingly encourages self-care of minor illnesses, including self-medication. Analgesics constitute a quarter of UK over-the-counter medicines sales, but concerns have been expressed about their potential for inappropriate use.

Objectives: To estimate the prevalence of recent use of non-prescription analgesics in Scotland, to describe by whom they are used, and to estimate inappropriate use.

Method: A cross-sectional postal survey consisting of a self-completed questionnaire that collected data on respondents' use of non-prescription and prescription medicines, as well as demographic and lifestyle data. The sample comprised 2708 subjects of 18 years and over, randomly selected from the Scottish electoral roll.

Results: The response rate was 55% (n=1501). Some 37% (555/1501) of respondents had used a non-prescription analgesic in the previous two weeks. Analgesics accounted for 59% (636/1081) of all non-prescription medicines used in that period. After controlling for all other variables, age, sex, level of education, self-reported health status, prescription exemption status, and use of prescription analgesics, remained significant predictors of non-prescription analgesic use. There was evidence of possible inappropriate use of non-prescription analgesics including use of multiple analgesics (n=67), use by individuals self-reporting conditions associated with cautious use of certain analgesics (n=51), and potential drug-drug interactions (n=15). A few respondents appeared to be using non-prescription analgesics to supplement medical treatment of chronic conditions (n=4).

Conclusions: Our findings have demonstrated a high level of use of non-prescription analgesics amongst the general public, with significant potential for inappropriate use. As we move towards a culture of increased self-management of minor illness, this demonstrated need for improved pharmacovigilance of non-prescribed medicines must be addressed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology
  • Analgesics / therapeutic use*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nonprescription Drugs / therapeutic use*
  • Pharmacoepidemiology / methods
  • Prevalence
  • Primary Health Care
  • Scotland / epidemiology
  • Sex Distribution
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Analgesics
  • Nonprescription Drugs