Pharmacists name their over-the-counter favorites


March 29, 1994|By Joe Graedon and Dr. Teresa Graedon

With more and more prescription drugs being switched to over-the-counter (OTC) status, it's hardly any wonder that pharmacists are being called upon to make recommendations.

After all, they are perennially voted America's most trusted professionals.

In many respects they know more about nonprescription drugs than physicians do. Medical education usually gives short shrift to OTCs, often perceived as wimpy drugs. Even the public may think of these products as also-rans, with few side effects but not much power either.

This perception is far from the truth. A few years ago you needed a prescription from your doctor to get the ingredients in Actifed, Advil, Afrin, Benadryl, Dimetapp, Gyne-Lotrimin, Monistat 7, Motrin IB, Nuprin and Sudafed.

Today they are the top-selling nonprescription brands in American drugstores.

What are pharmacists recommending these days to their inquiring customers?

A survey published in the pharmacy journal Drug Topics tells what's hot and what's not.

In the highly competitive pain-reliever market, pharmacists are big on generics. They recommend house-brand acetaminophen even more often than Tylenol (56 percent to 47 percent). Generic aspirin also scores over brands like Anacin, Bayer and Bufferin.

When it comes to coughs, however, there is extraordinary brand loyalty. Nine out of ten pharmacists suggest specific products, with Robitussin the clear favorite (69 percent).

Cold medicine is about evenly divided between house brands and Drixoral. Then come Tavist, Actifed, Sudafed and Dimetapp in that order. Although NyQuil didn't score highly with pharmacists, it is the top seller among cold medications.

In the Drug Topics survey, druggists also prefer Oxy 5 or Oxy 10 when it comes to acne remedies. Clearasil is a distant second.

They also have a clear favorite when it comes to diarrhea medicine. Imodium A-D was recommended by 88 percent of those queried. Kaopectate and Pepto-Bismol were far behind.

For athlete's foot, Lotrimin, Tinactin and Micatin (in that order) are most frequently suggested. Lotrimin also scored highest for jock itch fungal infections. But when it comes to vaginal yeast complaints, the anti-fungal drug Monistat 7 was the preferred brand (63 percent) with Gyne-Lotrimin garnering only 26 percent.

If you suffer heartburn and indigestion, more than half of the pharmacists in this survey suggest Mylanta. Runners-up were Maalox and Maalox Plus. House brands of aluminum and magnesium got only 17 percent of the vote.

When it comes to hemorrhoids, Anusol is almost twice as popular with pharmacists as Preparation H. Both are way out in front of all the other brands.

How do we make any sense out of pharmacists' recommendations? Except for remedies to treat pain, allergy and colds, they seem to prefer brand name products over generics. Their choices are generally excellent, but consumers can save a lot of money by picking house brands that contain the same ingredients.

No matter which OTC products you select, make sure to consult with the pharmacist about their proper use, side effects and potential interactions with other medicine. Remember, when it comes to using drugs wisely, your pharmacist is your best resource.

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Dr. Teresa Graedon is a medical anthropologist and nutrition expert.

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