Background and objectives: One major concern associated with misuse/abuse of over-the-counter (OTC) products is the potential for over-dosage. The aim of this research study was to evaluate, over a 3-month period, OTC medicine-related overdoses (those involving OTC drugs only and OTC drugs in combination with other drugs) that led to patients presenting at the Accident and Emergency (A & E) departments in four Belfast hospitals.
Methods: A data collection sheet was designed to capture the information required from the A & E records in each hospital. A retrospective week-by-week data collection, reviewing A & E records, took place over a 3-month period (starting on 1 December 2002). All data related to cases presenting at the A & E departments because of drug overdoses (either accidental or deliberate according to Read Clinical Classification) were included in the study. Data were coded and entered into a custom designed SPSS database for analysis, using Chi square and Fisher exact tests.
Results: OTC drug-related overdoses comprised 40.1% of all overdoses, of which 24.0% were OTC-only overdoses. Those who overdosed on OTC drugs (solely or combined with other drugs) were mainly female (62.3%) and in the age category 31-50 years (44.9%; P <0.05). The majority (n=215) of OTC-related overdoses were intentional, whereas only 28 were accidental. Of those who attended the A & E departments and had an overdose history, one-third overdosed on OTC-related products and two-thirds overdosed on OTC drugs only.
Conclusions: OTC drugs accounted for a significant proportion of overdose presentations at the A & E departments in Northern Ireland. Higher awareness of the potential of OTC product use in overdose cases (intentional or accidental) is recommended for both the public and health care professionals.