Consumer group launches campaign to help teens use over-the-counter pain medications safely during the school year – National Consumers League

October 10, 2013

Contact: Ben Klein, NCL Communications, 202-835-3323,

Washington, DC — According to the nation’s pioneering consumer advocacy group, the National Consumers League (NCL), use of over-the-counter (OTC) medications to relieve pain, cold and flu symptoms, and allergies among American teenagers is widespread but often uninformed. The Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization today is launching a national multi-media campaign aimed at educating teens and young adults about the risks of misusing OTC pain medications.

“When it comes to safety and health, teens often think they know more than they actually do,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director. “We have found teens as young as 13 years old, uninformed and self-medicating with OTC medications. And, while many teens do look to their parents and other adults for counsel and instruction about using OTC medications, many adult consumers aren’t properly using the medications themselves, setting a bad example for their children, and putting themselves at risk of serious health consequences.”

Today NCL is launching, an interactive site for teens to educate about the safe use of OTC pain medications. TakeWithCare addresses some of the most common misconceptions about the safety of the medications: the importance of reading and following labels, taking the labeled dose and consulting with parents and health care professionals. NCL has also created new OTC safety curriculum for its LifeSmarts program, a national consumer education competition and in-classroom aid for middle and high school students, and is today releasing the research about teen use of OTC medications that was used in the development of the new site.

Over-the-counter pain medications containing acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are among the most commonly used drugs in the United States, yet also pose dangers when misused. Taking more than the recommended amount can cause liver damage (in the case of acetaminophen) and stomach bleeding (in the case of NSAIDs). According to the Food and Drug Administration, many cases of overdose are caused by patients inadvertently taking more than the recommended dose of a particular product, taking multiple medicines containing the same active ingredients, or by taking both OTC and prescription versions concurrently.

Research commissioned by NCL has found that Americans, young and old, are in need of education on the safe use of OTC pain medication, and it was this research that drove the organization to produce the new educational campaign. The 2009 Harris Interactive survey conducted online among both teens aged 13 to 17 and adults aged 18 and older, found that nearly as many American teenagers (75 percent) as adults (84%) have used OTC pain medications  in the past year. Nearly two in three of teen respondents (64%) said they have used an OTC pain medication in the last six months, most commonly for headaches, sports or exercise-related pain and muscle aches, or menstrual pain. More than two-thirds (69%) of teen OTC pain medication users consult with their parent(s) before taking the OTC pain medication. The survey found a substantial percentage of teens are using the medicines regularly: Incidence of use of OTC pain medications daily or several times per week is 15 percent among 13- to 15-year-olds, and 21 percent of 16- and 17-year-olds report using OTC pain medications at least several times a week.

Despite how widespread it is, their usage behavior is not flawless: one-quarter of teen OTC pain medication users reported having taken the next dose sooner than directed, expecting more frequent usage to result in better relief. Also alarming to the consumer group, is the finding that many teens taking the medications often do so without awareness of the products’ active ingredients. Only one in four (27%) teens said they knew what the active ingredient is in their most-often used OTC pain medication. This number is lower than among adults, 56% of adults saying they knew the active ingredient in their most often used OTC pain medication.

“If you aren’t aware of exactly what’s in the product you’re taking – whether it’s a pain reliever, cough suppressant, fever reducer, sinus medication, or something else, you’re putting yourself at risk for doubling-up on the same active ingredient and exposing your body to the potential harm caused by that overdosing,” said Greenberg. “Many consumers self-treating pain, cold or flu symptoms may turn to more than one product, often multi-ingredient, without realizing that they’re putting themselves at potential risk of stomach or liver problems.”

“The opportunity to educate teens about proper OTC pain medication use exists when they are young and have the potential to form better habits than their adult counterparts,” said Rebecca Burkholder, NCL Vice President for Health Policy. “As teens age and enter adulthood, they are using OTC pain medications more frequently and with increasingly less adult supervision. While we were pleased to see that the majority of teens are consulting a parent or guardian about such medication use, the goal of Take With Care is to instill good habits across the board.”

Survey Highlights

Use without confidence

Although the majority of teens self report having used OTC pain medications recently, overall, teens lack knowledge about OTC pain medications. In addition, there is little awareness of the active ingredients in their pain medications and they lack familiarity with acetaminophen.

  • Nearly two-thirds of teens (64%) have used OTC pain medications in the past six months. However, nearly three-quarters (73%) of teen OTC pain medications do not know or are not sure of the main active ingredient in the OTC pain medication they take most frequently. For example, fewer than one-fifth of teens (16%) are very or fairly familiar with the active ingredient acetaminophen. One-third of teens (33%) do not believe acetaminophen is sold under the brand Tylenol™, a concern to advocates given that Tylenol is one of the most well-known brands containing acetaminophen.

Dangers of mixing products

  • Despite the fact that nearly half of teens indicate some uncertainty about the safety of using two products that contain acetaminophen at the same time, some teen OTC pain medication users are using OTC pain medications and other medications concurrently, a practice advocates and government health experts strongly caution against.
  • Nearly half of teens (48%) are unsure as to whether it is safe to take two products containing acetaminophen at the same time.
  • Nearly half of teens (44%) are unsure if it is okay to take OTC PMs while taking an OTC product for cold or sinus conditions, and 18 percent of teen OTC PM users have taken an OTC PMs with an OTC for cold or flu.
  • While use of prescription painkillers among teens is low (10%), nearly all teen respondents were unable to correctly identify APAP as the prescription abbreviation for acetaminophen. As their adult counterparts demonstrated a tendency to use prescription and OTC painkillers concurrently (44% had reported doing so), advocates are strongly concerned about teens’ ability to identify what they are taking in order to avoid overdose.


Teens admit they are using OTC PMs other than directed on the label.

  • One-quarter (24%) of teen OTC PM users report they have taken the next dose sooner than directed; 15% report they have taken more pills at a single time or more than the number of doses per day as directed on the label (7%).
  • Nearly one third (32%) of teens think that it is either not possible (9%) or are not sure (23%) that one can  overdose on OTC

Parental influence

Most young people rely most heavily on parental guidance when it comes to making health decisions including taking OTC PMs, which, on the surface seems wise, but could pose risks, considering the poor self-reported habits of some of the adults surveyed.

    • Two-thirds (66%) of teens report their parent(s) influence them the most when it comes to making decisions about their health.
    • More than two-thirds (69%) of teen OTC PM users consult with their parent(s) before taking the OTC PM.
    • In general, a relatively small but significant number of teens say they would take OTC medicines without first consulting with a parent (22% say they never or rarely consult a parent) and only 39% say they always check with a parent. Older teens are less likely to consult a parent than younger teens.Only 4% of teens have consulted a healthcare professional always or often about information that was unclear to them on an OTC drug package.
    • 66% of teens say they are most influenced by parents in terms to decision about their health. 12% say other people (like friends, siblings, teachers) and 11% say doctors are the “most” influential.

Following (or not) the labels

Most teens say they read the directions on a new OTC PM, but other elements are read less often. Teens admit to not reading the labels every time they take the medications.

  • Two-thirds of teens (63%) say they “always or often” read the directions the first time they take an OTC medication.
  • Only one in four (28%) teens say they read the active ingredients the first time they take an OTC product, 44% say they never / rarely read this information
  • Roughly half of teens (48 percent) say they always/often read the label information on warning and side effects

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 one of the world’s leading market research firms, leveraging research, technology, and business acumen to transform relevant insight into actionable foresight. Known widely for the Harris Poll® and for pioneering innovative research methodologies, Harris offers proprietary solutions in the areas of market and customer insight, corporate brand and reputation strategy, and marketing, advertising, public relations and communications research. Serving clients in more than 196 countries and territories through our North American and European offices, Harris specializes in delivering research solutions that help us – and our clients—stay ahead of what’s next. For more information, please visit

During the shutdown, House bill for selective relief of FDA is short sighted – National Consumers League

92_ayannaBy Ayanna Johnson, Health Policy Associate The government shutdown continues to negatively impact the health and safety of Americans. Vital government agencies like the NIH, FDA, CDC, EPA, and others are operating with a much-reduced staff, endangering the public, not to mention the families of government workers who may not be able to pay their mortgage or bills. But don’t worry, Congress to the rescue!

On October 3, the House GOP introduced H.J. Res 77, the Food and Drug Administration Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014, which passed four days later H.J. Res 77 singles out the Food and Drug Administration for funding during the partial government shutdown. This bill aims to provide funding to FDA to continue normal operations, but fails to provide the necessary funding for the other equally important government agencies. The republican approach of passing piecemeal legislation to address one small aspect of the government shutdown at a time does not adequately solve the problem.  As President Obama stated during his Tuesday press conference, these bills help agencies with high visibility but neglect others. With other patient and health advocates, NCL signed on to a letter to Speaker John Boehner and Leader Nancy Pelosi expressing concern with this proposed legislation. While we do believe FDA to be an essential government agency, we cannot support this approach by the House GOP. Click on the link below for the full letter. Health coalition opposed to H.J. Res 77

Do big changes lie ahead for nonprofit organizations? – National Consumers League

A message from our development team. America’s nonprofit organizations, including the National Consumers League, are caught on the horns of a dilemma. Current tax law permits NCL and all 501(c)(3), meaning tax-exempt, nonprofit organizations to advocate for policy changes, provided that advocacy doesn’t supplant their charitable purpose. We’re prohibited from endorsing candidates for public office.

Despite occasional missteps, these laws and regulations have worked pretty well. There were howls of protest, however, when word leaked out that the IRS was making a clumsy attempt to identify Tea Party-related organizations that might not qualify for tax-exempt status. Now comes a report from the Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations (CAPRO), established by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, that recommends eliminating the ban on political speech by charities like NCL and religious organizations, including churches. Preachers could endorse political candidates from the pulpit, in other words. Diana Aviv, head of Independent Sector, the largest association of national nonprofit organizations, spoke out forcefully against the CAPRO recommendations, and the Bright Lines Project (BLP), spearheaded by the Center for Effective Government, is developing its own recommendations to clarify what charitable organizations may do and say in nonpartisan (meaning, mainly, non-electoral) activities. It’s a safe bet that freeing evangelical preachers to endorse candidates on Sunday morning will not be on the BLP’s recommendations list.  

Avoid food-drug interactions – National Consumers League

What you eat and drink can affect the way your medicines work. NCL has teamed up with the FDA to update its popular guide about avoiding dangerous food and medicine combinations, and it’s now available to the public!

Health advocates at the National Consumers League and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have produced “Avoid Food and Drug Interactions” an updated version of NCL’s most popular brochure “Food and Drug Interactions,” to serve as a guide to alert you to possible “food-drug interactions” and to help you learn what you can do to prevent them.

A food-drug interaction is a change in how a medicine works caused by food, caffeine, or alcohol.

A food-drug interaction can:

  • prevent a medicine from working the way it should
  • cause a side effect from a medicine to get worse or better
  • cause a new side effect

A medicine can also change the way your body uses a food. Any of these changes can be harmful.

NCL and the FDA have teamed up to alert consumers to the possibility that the medications they are taking could interact with foods, caffeine, and alcohol. With millions of Americans taking prescription or over-the-counter medications each day, the issue of interactions between medications and certain foods is of growing importance.

The updated brochure contains information on nine medical conditions, the types of medications used to treat the condition, and common interactions between the medications and food, caffeine, or alcohol. The medications include both common prescription and over-the-counter medicines. The conditions covered in the guide range from arthritis to osteoporosis, and the medications range from aspirin to lithium to warfarin. The interactions come from medicine labels that FDA has approved. And the guide uses the generic names of medicines, never brand names.

The guide has been published in plain language, and is re-formatted as a guide for consumers to learn more about and avoid interactions. It is important to always check the medication label for any information on interactions. Always ask your doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional if you have any questions about using your medication with other medications; with vitamins, herbals, or other dietary supplements; or with food, caffeine, or alcohol.

To see what we’re talking about, you can view sample pages of the brochure online here. You can order the brochure by contacting NCL’s Publications Manager Theresa Smith by calling (202) 835-3323. Bulk order pricing is available at a discounted rate!

NCL’s Greenberg to be honored by Frances Perkins Center – National Consumers League

October 3, 2013

Contact: NCL Communications, Ben Klein, (202) 835-3323,

Washington, DC—The Maine-based Frances Perkins Center, an organization that carries on the legacy of Frances Perkins, principal architect of the New Deal and first woman to serve in a presidential cabinet, will honor National Consumers League Executive Director Sally Greenberg this week at its annual awards ceremony in Portland, Maine.

Frances Perkins paved the way for future generations of women as the first female appointed to a presidential cabinet position. Perkins served as the U.S. Secretary of Labor for Franklin Delano Roosevelt (and still the longest-sitting secretary of labor in U.S. history), a guest professor of industrial and labor relations at Cornell University, a social worker, a factory inspector, a New York state commissioner of labor, a champion of the New Deal, and a close friend and advisor to FDR.

The Frances Perkins Steadfast Award: Sally Greenberg
Sally Greenberg joined the National Consumers League as Executive Director in 2007. Under Sally’s leadership, the League continues to fight the exploitation of children and teens in the workplace, and enforces the protections provided by maximum hours laws and minimum wage laws. The League runs a special project on Wage Theft, working for paid sick leave locally and nationally, and coordinates the Child Labor Coalition. Sally came to NCL from Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, where she served as Senior Product Safety Counsel for 10 years.

“I am truly honored to receive this award from the Frances Perkins Center, an organization dedicated to preserving the legacy of one of the 20th Century’s most influential social reformers,” said Greenberg. “Perkins’ early work for the National Consumers League, which introduced her to progressive political figures like NY Governor Al Smith, and later Franklin Delano Roosevelt, is a history the League is proud to share. Perkins is one of my great role models as the League continues to fight for progressive reforms.”

The award is named for Frances Perkins who, after college, ran NCL’s New York chapter, focusing on four areas: poor conditions in cellar bakeries, long hours and poor wages for children, child labor, and workplace fire hazards. Later in life, as Secretary of Labor, Perkins worked to pass unemployment insurance, Social Security, and the law setting wage and hour restrictions known as the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Today, the Frances Perkins Center’s Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative provides a progressive framework around the evolving role of government, depicting the ways in which government has fueled innovation, supported social justice, and improved quality of life in America.

When: October 4, 2013 | 3:30pm – 6:00pm
Where:  Wishcamper Center
Muskie School of Public Service, University of Southern Maine
34 Bedford St, Portland, ME

For more info:


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

Make it a union-made Halloween! – National Consumers League

Have you bought candy to give out to trick-or-treaters on Halloween yet? Later this month, children across the country will cheerfully announce their presence at doorways hoping to receive sweet treats. While Halloween certainly belongs to children, adults get to make some decisions too—especially when it comes to buying treats that are American- and union-made. 

This year, the National Consumers League and its labor allies are calling on parents to be smart about the candy they purchase, and try to buy union- or American-made products made by workers who are paid a living wage.

A few labor-friendly candy manufactures include Nestle, Ghiradelli Chocolates, Gimbals Fine Candies, Just Born, Necco, Jelly Belly’s Candy Company, and Pearson’s Candy Company. One fly in the ointment, however, is child labor, which can be found in the supply chains of chocolate companies. Many chocolate companies have taken steps to trace their cocoa purchasing to reduce child labor from their supply chains.

At Union Plus, consumers can view a list of union-made candy choices provided by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM); snack foods by members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW); or fruit and nuts from members of the United Farm Workers of America (UFW).

So get out there and vote with your pocketbooks and support worker-friendly candy manufacturers this Halloween!

NCL statement on the US government shutdown – National Consumers League

October 1, 2013

Contact: NCL Communications, Ben Klein, (202) 835-3323,

Washington, DC–Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League, has issued the following statement in response to the U.S. government shutdown:

We are deeply disappointed about the inability of the government to resolve conflicts and keep the doors of our federal agencies open for business. It appears to us that one extreme faction of the House of Representatives is holding the rest of the country hostage; they don’t like the Affordable Care Act, a historic measure to provide access to health care for the 50 million Americans without that coverage.

The consequences to families across America, to have, for the first time, the ability to take care of their families and get needed treatments is enormous. NCL since our founding in 1899 has strongly supported access to health care for all Americans and we cannot find any justification for further delaying this healthcare lifeline to so many citizens.

These right wing radicals are acting like petulant children – their cause – denying access to health care for the 50 million – has been defeated time and again, but they won’t accept reality. They lost the battle against the ACA in Congress, they lost their effort to overturn the law in the Supreme Court, their candidate for President, Mitt Romney, lost the election against President Barack Obama despite his platform calling for overturning the ACA. Now they have shut the government down and are trying to pin the blame on the President and the Senate for “refusing to negotiate.” That is a distortion of facts and reality. And we are glad the President and the Senate, Republicans and Democrats alike, and many members of the House as well, are not giving in.

We urge all reasonable lawmakers- those who consider themselves statesmen and stateswomen – to come to their senses and understand the consequences of this shutdown on the hundreds of thousands of loyal federal workers who are furloughed, and the impact on citizens across the United States. The American people deserve a better and more representative government.


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