Adult Survey

Quick Facts

Widespread Use, Widespread Uncertainty

While many adults are using OTC pain medications (PMs) on a regular basis to help with a variety of health issues, many adult OTC PM users are unable to name the main active ingredient in the OTC PM they use most often and the majority of adults are not familiar with abbreviations for PM ingredients.

  • Over three-quarters (78%) of adults have used OTC PMs in the past 6 months.
  • Almost half of adults (44%) do not know or are not sure of the main active ingredient in their OTC PM.

One in five adults (19%) are not at all familiar with acetaminophen, and only 5% of adults are able to correctly identify APAP as the abbreviation for acetaminophen. 41% of adults believe acetaminophen is sold aa “Motrin”

Following (or not) the labels

Adult OTC PM users claim they know the proper usage for their most commonly used OTC PM but they could be missing important information by neglecting to read everything on the package.

  • Nearly two-thirds (63%) of adult OTC PM users report they do not usually read the directions on the medication package because they know how much to take.
  • When taking an OTC PM for the first time, only 16% of adult OTC PM users indicate they read everything on the package.
  • Less than half of adults (46%) read the directions on the package when taking an OTC PM for the first time.
  • Alcohol warnings are one of the most overlooked pieces of information on OTC drug packages.
  • Only one in ten (9%) of adult OTC PM users read the effects of interactions with alcohol when taking the OTC PM they take most often for the first time.
  • One-fifth (19%) of OTC PM users say that at some point they have used OTC PMs just after consuming alcohol. 13% have used OTC PMs just before consuming alcohol and 9% have used OTC PMs during alcohol consumption.

Use without confidence

Despite having uncertainty about using medications at the same time, some adults still indicate that they are taking OTC PMs along with prescription (Rx) PMs and other medications

  • One-quarter of adults (26%) are unsure about if it is okay to take two products containing acetaminophen at the same time.
  • Nearly a quarter (22%) are unsure if it is okay to take OTC PMs while taking an OTC product for cold or sinus conditions.
  • One-third (34%) strongly or somewhat agree that using OTC PMs and OTC cold/sinus medications concurrently is okay.
  • Around one-half (44%) of adult prescription (Rx) PM users say they have taken Rx PMs at the same time they were taking OTC PMs at some point in the past.
  • Almost one-quarter (23%) of adult OTC PM users say they have used OTC PMs along with cold or flu medication at some point in the past.


Additionally, many adult OTC PM users acknowledge that they sometimes take their OTC PM other than recommended on the label, including taking more pills at a time or taking the next dose sooner than the label recommended.

  • Over a third (36%) of adult OTC PM users have taken the next dose sooner than directed on the label and the same percentage (36%) have taken more pills at a single time than the label recommended.
  • Nearly one in five (18%) have taken more than the number of doses per day as directed on the label.

About the Survey

NCL commissioned this survey with an unrestricted educational grant from McNeil Consumer Healthcare.

This Knowledge of and Behavior Around Acetaminophen Use Survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of the National Consumers League between May 29. 2009 and June 11, 2009 among 536 youth, aged 13 to 17 and 1,731 adults aged 18 and older, with an oversample of 200 English-speaking Hispanic adults. Complete survey results, fact sheets for consumers, and other resources are available at .

About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America's pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit .

About Harris Interactive®

Harris Interactive is a global leader in custom market research. With a long and rich history in multimodal research, powered by our science and technology, we assist clients in achieving business results. Harris Interactive serves clients globally through our North American, European and Asian offices and a network of independent market research firms. For more information, please visit .

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