Self-medication in pain management: The state of the art of pharmacists' role for optimal Over-The-Counter analgesic use

Eur J Pain. 2019 Nov;23(10):1747-1762. doi: 10.1002/ejp.1459. Epub 2019 Aug 7.


Background and objective: Self-medication is associated with an important utilization of Over-The-Counter (OTC) analgesics. The medical outcome resulting from therapeutic options bypassing the physician prescription is a major issue. In that context, pharmacists are expected to play a crucial role. The main objective of this review was to analyse the state-of-the art of pharmacists' role in pain management self-medication.

Databases and data treatment: An expert multidisciplinary group dedicated to self-medication in pain was established. Selection of publications was performed from PubMedand EMBASE databases which was based on the use of "pain" and/or "self-medication" and/or "self-care" and/or "analgesics" and/or "painkillers" keywords, restricted to the past 10 years.

Results: A total of 480 papers were identified, 49 of which papers were considered relevant and finally kept for final discussion, on OTC pain management and pharmacist's role. Literature analysis demonstrates that OTC analgesics are generally safe when appropriately used. Risks associated with misuse or inappropriateness depend on patients' vulnerability (elderly, pregnancy) or behaviour. Social cognitive theory-based intervention and multimedia applications improve self-medication but do not replace health care professional advice Pharmacists' interventions may improve the benefits and safety of OTC analgesic medication, with a better management of pain.

Conclusions: Considering the heterogeneity of patients' knowledge and behaviour reported worldwide, inappropriate use of OTC pain medication should not be underestimated. Community pharmacists are ideally placed to guide self-medication or recommend a medical advice when needed. Embedding pharmacists in primary care pain management is essential and pharmacist-led medication coupled with an appropriate training of pharmacy staffs should be encouraged.

Significance: Analgesics are widely used without prescription, all over the world. They represent the largest market of OTC drugs, with an overall benefit/risk ratio favourable when appropriately used. Because of potential individual risks associated to the ailment or to the patient's behaviour, pharmacists' interventions have proven to optimize analgesic self-medication, provided that pharmacy staffs are both available and more specifically trained. In the future, in pain management, especially self-medication, pharmacists should play an increasing role and should be included in educational programmes and pain management guidelines.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Nonprescription Drugs / therapeutic use*
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Pain Management
  • Pharmacies
  • Pharmacists*
  • Professional Role*
  • Self Care
  • Self Medication


  • Analgesics
  • Nonprescription Drugs

Grant support