Cough Medicine and Consumer-Centered Health Care

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  • 02/16/2012

Sometimes you need to state the obvious to make a point.   Or as Steve Martin once said:  "A day without sunshine is like, you know, night."

Such it is with cough and cold medicines.   A survey CMPI conducted on consumer use of such medications confirmed what we likely think we already know:

• Two-thirds (66%) of surveyed adults and 70% of surveyed parents rely on OTC cough medicines to treat their own and their children’s symptoms.
• Over the past year more than half of U.S. adults (57%) have taken cough medicines and 71% of parents have administered these medicines to their children aged four and older.
• 75% of consumers agree that OTC medicines provide relief of their cough symptoms so they can get a good night's rest.
• 68% of consumers agree that OTC medicines allow them to stay productive at work or school when they are not feeling well.
• 61 million consumers in the past 12 months have avoided missing work, school, or other scheduled appointments due to illness because they had access to OTC cough medicines to alleviate their symptoms (based on census data).

Not suprisingly, consumers like the freedom to get such medicines without waiting or paying for a doctor:

o 78% of consumers believe that it would place a burden on them and their family because they would need to visit a doctor.
o 74% of consumers believe that it would place a burden on them and their family because they would need to take time away from other responsibilities, such as work or school.
o 71% of consumers believe that it would limit their ability to provide care for their children.
o As such, 76% of consumers believe OTC cough medicines should remain available over-the-counter without restrictions.

The vast majority of Americans use cough and cold formulations because they are a save, convenient and affordable way to stop coughing.  And when you cough you -- or your children and people around you -- are uncomfortable, can't sleep, can't work.  And if we had to run to the doctor and get a prescription for every time we coughed or were stuffed up we would be spending a lot more money treating symptoms that, more often than not, resolve are their own.   Then again, running to the doctor, especially a pediatrician is just a figure of speech.  These days running to the doctor is like, well, not getting an appointment for days, sitting in an office with other parents and really sick kids, reading magazines that are so old they still have Mel Gibson on the cover. 

We did the survey for four reasons:  At a time when people are struggling to make ends meet, it's important to remember that OTC medicines save time and money.   Second, to show at a time when the government and nanny-crats are cracking down on school lunches brought from home, seeking to make sugar a controlled substance and telling us that contraception has to be free but we can't have access to new cancer drugs and vaccines that still have control over what we can do to take of ourselves and families might be -- given the times -- a precious liberty.   Third,  that there is wisdom in the crowd.   That the benefits of consumer empowerment outweigh the risks and that the risks themselves can be managed mostly by we-the-people by educating ourselves and each other.  Finally,  in the future turning more prescription medicines in OTC products is consistent with consumer-centered medicine, will save time and money and increase the number of people who take medicines in a routine and safe manner. 

These things may be obvious.   But too often they appear to be under assault.  Alerting so-called opinion leaders, experts, etc., that Americans value the freedom they have value to buy cough and cold medicines when they are coughing and have cold symptoms may be alerting them to the obvious.   But everything is obvious after the fact or when it's gone.

You can access the entire report, highlights and a press release on the CMPI website:

Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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