Gray market erectile disfunction medications pose risk to consumers

Did you know the vast majority of online pharmacies are illegitimate? A review by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) found that only 2.4 percent of online pharmacies comply with U.S. pharmacy laws and practice standards. This alarming statistic sheds light on the growing threat of illegal, online pharmacies – a component of the gray market – to consumer health. While many online pharmacies may present themselves as a legal, safe, and/or cheaper option, purchasing medicines from these websites could come at the cost of safety and security if consumers do not take the appropriate precautions. 

Medications for erectile dysfunction (ED) – which affects 24 percent of men in the United States over the age of 18 – are among the most commonly sold medications on the gray market. Due to a number of factors including the stigma some consumers experience around sexual health conditions and treatments, many patients suffering from ED don’t talk to their doctors or have prescriptions filled. This creates an environment where consumers may instead seek out unsafe, illegitimate online pharmacies to get these prescription medicines.

In accordance with our mission to ensure all Americans have access to safe, effective medicines, the National Consumers League (NCL) partnered with Bayer to develop a white paper, Increased Consumer Risk from Erectile Dysfunction Medication Advertised and Sold on the Gray Market, to analyze the possible dangers consumers face by purchasing ED medications from illegal online pharmacies. NCL presented the paper’s findings in November at the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP) Global Foundation’s Spotlight on Illegal Online Drug Sales Research Symposium in Washington, DC.

Based on the research, the white paper recommends five concrete policies to improve consumer safety, including:

  • Enhancing consumer awareness about the gray market and promoting health literacy;  
  • Encouraging healthcare providers to talk about the risks of illegal online pharmacies with their patients;  
  • Supporting collaborative law enforcement actions to combat illegal sales on the gray market; 
  • Increasing access to ED medicines by making them available over-the-counter, with robust consumer education and information programs; and
  • Adding to the body of evidence on the dangers of the gray market.     

To learn more about the research and the dangers of the gray market, read the full white paper here.

National Prescription Drug Take Back Day

Nissa ShaffiThis Saturday, October 27, 2018, is the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) National Prescription Drug Take Back Day. This initiative is a national effort that aims to provide consumers with safe and convenient avenues to dispose of their expired or unused prescription medications. Failure to properly dispose of medications can lead to devastating consequences, as medications can become misplaced, stolen, or misused.


National Prescription Drug Take Back Day ensures that used, expired, and potentially highly addictive prescription medications such as opioids do not end up in the wrong hands. In April 2018 alone, national take back efforts were able to collect close to 474.5 tons of prescription medications.

The National Consumers League encourages consumers to clean out their medicine cabinets and participate in National Prescription Drug Take Back Day this Saturday, October 27, 2018. To find a drug take back location near you, please click here. Drug take back efforts will run from 10 am to 2 pm. To make phone inquiries, call 1-800-882-9539.

In addition to National Take Back Day, consumers can also dispose of unused and expired prescription medications in the following ways:

  • Contact your local pharmacy to see if they offer programs like in-store kiosks to collect unwanted prescription drugs.
  • Use a drug disposal pouch, such as the Deterra pouch, that contain solutions that nullify active ingredients in medications when mixed with water and sealed for disposal.
  • Mix expired and unused drugs with cat litter or old coffee grounds, seal them in an airtight container, and throw it into the garbage.
  • As a last resort, consumers can flush their medications down the toilet, but this method is generally not recommended as the ingredients in some medications can potentially corrupt community water supplies. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a list of medications approved for disposal by flushing when other safe disposal options are not readily available.

For more resources on how to safely and effectively dispose of prescription medications, please click here.

Talk before you take: The importance of doctor-patient communication before starting a new medication – National Consumers League

92_kamay.jpgWe’ve all been there. Sitting alone in a cold doctor’s office, listening to a re-run of the Dr. Oz show while waiting for your doctor to come back in the room with a diagnosis and prescription in hand. You can’t wait to leave and get back on the path to wellness. And who could blame you? No one likes to wait—especially when you don’t feel healthy. The doctor comes back, hands you your prescription, and gives you a brief overview about what the medication is and the appropriate dosage. But, what happens next is critical. Do you hop off that cold, uncomfortable patient bed and go on your merry way, or do you ask questions? Specifically, questions pertaining to the risks associated with this prescription medication.

While in recent years, the communication gap between healthcare providers and patients has been met with a fair share of commentary, critique, scholarly review and analysis, we are slowly making progress, thanks in part to numerous campaigns and educational initiatives. Recently, the National Council on Patient Information and Education (NCPIE), a non-profit organization, launched a campaign to help bridge the communication gap with Talk Before You Take.

Launched earlier this year, Talk Before You Take highlights the importance of communicating with your healthcare provider about the benefits and risks of prescribed medications before a prescription is written and filled. The specific aims of the Talk Before You Take are to:

  • Understand medication side effects
  • Avoid adverse drug reactions
  • Improve adherence to medicine regimen(s)
  • Live healthier lives

Here are four tips to help guide your conversation with your healthcare provider about prescription medicines:

  • 1. Talk to your healthcare provider and ask questions about the benefits and potential risks of prescription medicines you take.
  • 2. Tell your healthcare provider about all of the medicines you are taking—including over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and dietary supplements.
  • 3. Tell your healthcare provider about any allergies or sensitivities that you may have.
  • 4. Read and follow the medicine label and directions.

And remember, even if you get home and realize that you still have questions about your prescription medications; it’s not too late. Don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and call your healthcare provider. Because when it comes to your health, there are no silly questions.

Ways to save on Rx Meds? Co-pay cards and other resources – National Consumers League

92_rx_costs.jpgThe bad news is that the cost of health care continues to rise, and many consumers find it tough to pay for medications. The good news is there are a number of consumer options for saving money on the medications your doctor prescribes. Read on to learn more about how co-pay and discount cards might be a good option for you.

First things first

Find out whether a generic, or non-brand, drug is available and appropriate for you. Generic drugs are a good way to save money, but for some patients, and for certain conditions, a brand-name drug may be needed.

Check out co-pay and discount cards to see if they will save you money on your prescription drugs. With many different kinds of co-pay and discount cards, it may be difficult to sort out which ones are right for you.

What are they?

Co-pay cards can be used to lower or eliminate your insurance co-payment, or out-of-pocket costs, for a prescription medication. A co-pay is the fixed amount that insurance companies ask consumers to pay toward their medication or other health services. The cards are typically offered by companies that manufacture brand-name medicines, although some generic companies offer co-pay card programs as well. Drug discount cards can help lower the price on medications. Most cards are available for free, while others charge a fee up-front to receive the card.

How do they work?

Co-pay cards may be available from your physician or can be found through the Internet, and are generally used to offset the cost of the co-pay for brand-name prescription drugs. Each program is different, but many require that a patient register prior to presenting his or her card to the pharmacist. As a patient, you give the card to your pharmacist when you get a prescription filled. The amount of the co-pay may be reduced or covered entirely. The pharmaceutical company that makes the drug covers the cost of reducing your co-pay when you use the card.

Things to know about co-pay cards:

Co-pay cards can help consumers reduce out-of-pocket costs for their brand name medication, especially for specialty drugs, such as those that treat multiple sclerosis (MS) and rheumatoid arthritis. Having access to cheaper medications means patients don’t have to look for cheaper, possibly less effective, versions.

  • Studies show that higher patient co-pay amounts are linked with fewer people taking their medication as directed, or reducing medication adherence. With a lower co-pay, consumers will be less likely to skip taking their mediation.
  • Some say co-pay cards encourage the use of more expensive brand-name drugs over lower cost generics. Some patients, however, must take a brand-name drug for medical reasons and there may not be a generic drug available that contains the exact same active ingredient.
  • Co-pay cards CANNOT be used by people with MedicareMedicaid, or other federal or state healthcare programs. The federal government is cracking down on the use of co-pay cards for Medicare part D drugs. There was a recent Special Advisory put out by the Office of Inspector General that “underscored that manufacturers are responsible to ensure that co-pay card coupons are not used by Medicare D beneficiaries.”
  • Many mail order medication programs do not accept co-pay cards.

Drug discount cards are often available online. The cards may be offered and paid for by state governments, pharmaceutical companies, non-profit organizations, or large retail store chains. Discount cards work through participating pharmacies that agree to offer lower prices on a variety of medicines (both brand names and generics), similar to the prices provided to insurance companies or large employers.

Things to know about discount cards:

  • Be careful about any cards that charge a fee up front to get access to the card. The fees could add up to more than the discount itself!
  • When using a free card, it is still important to consider the cost of your medication. The generic version may be cheaper than the discounted brand medication covered by the card.
  • The card can be used if your insurance does not cover your medication, or if your deductible has not been met.
  • A few discount cards can be used with Medicare (especially if you fall within the Part D donut hole), but you should check the individual card since this is very program specific.

Who pays for these cost savings for you?

Pharmaceutical companies that make the drug often pay for the cost of co-pay card programs, because their brand-name drugs become more affordable for consumers. Participating pharmacies agree to offer consumers discount prices for the medications covered by a drug discount card. In return, participating pharmacies receive more customers when people can afford to fill their prescriptions and get more traffic through other areas of their stores.

Be on the lookout

Once again, watch for cards with fees. Generally, you should not have to pay for a co-pay or discount card. Most are available without any fee.

Guard your personal information. Be careful about giving out any personal information to get a card. Never list your Social Security Number. Most companies ask if you would like to receive any additional information, offers, and advertisements, so be sure to decline if you aren’t interested.

Learn more

These Web sites provide links to hundreds of assistance programs, including co-pay cards, drug discount cards, and coupons. Through these links to other Web sites, you can access co-pay and discount cards directly. Pharmaceutical companies also have sites for cost-saving programs or cards for their specific medicines. For many of these programs, there are no fees or registration costs for using the cards, but check carefully before you sign up.

Offers links to co-pay cards, coupons, and other financial assistance for brand name prescriptions. Search the alphabetized database for your brand name medication and click to take you to the drug manufacturer’s Web site to sign up for the assistance. These discounts are not available to those whose prescriptions are paid for by any state or federal program, including Medicare and Medicaid, and there are some state specific limitations.

Co-pay Cards from Pharmaceutical Manufacturers

Drug manufacturers offer specific co-pay assistance for a variety of medications, here are a few examples:

  • Lipitor $4 co-pay/prescription
  • Crestor- $18 co-pay/prescription
  • Nexium- $18 co-pay/prescription for up to 12 fills


The site offers a free, downloadable prescription discount card to print and use at participating pharmacies as well as links to other discount programs and co-pay cards for both brand and generic medications. Search the alphabetized database for prescription assistance programs, links to co-pay cards, and disease specific assistance programs. Needymeds includes other services, such as locating free/low cost clinics, MRI/CAT scan discounts, scholarships, and links to Medicaid sites.

Familywize: Prescription Discount Card

Patients can access a discount card that can be used in over 60,000 pharmacies to lower the cost of prescription drugs. This card is free of charge and can be downloaded and printed. The card is also available electronically on a mobile phone. This site offers a user-friendly drug lookup table so you can begin to estimate your drug costs using the card.

Mobile Apps

Discount cards are available as mobile apps downloadable to your phone. The electronic discount card is then presented to the pharmacist when you fill your prescription. Check out your app store for more details.

Other prescription assistance programs

Here are more resources to assist with the cost of prescription drugs. Many pharmaceutical companies have patient assistance programs for those who cannot afford their medications and have no health insurance. Information is available at their websites by putting “patient assistance programs” or “patient support” into the search field at the site.

Partnership for Prescription Assistance

Programs around the country that help patients, caregivers, and prescribers access free or low-cost prescription drugs. This site links to a variety of services to help lower your co-payment for both prescriptions and other medical services.

Patient Access Network

Helps underinsured patients with co-payments for cancer or chronic disease medications.

Benefits CheckUp: Prescription Drug Assistance

National Council of Aging Web site that helps seniors with limited income and resources make the best decisions about the public and private programs that are available to help them save money on prescription drugs and other healthcare costs.

Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs

Consumers Union, the group that publishes Consumer Reports, evaluates the best drugs to treat certain conditions based on how well the drugs work, their safety, their side effects, and their cost. This information is also available in Spanish.

Medicare Extra Help

Some people with limited resources and income also are eligible for Extra Help to pay for the costs related to a Medicare prescription drug plan – – monthly premiums, annual deductibles, and prescription co-payments.

Provides pharmacy discounts based on negotiated prices at participating pharmacies. is partnered with a pharmacy benefit provider to help make the information accessible by simply picking a pharmacy or searching for a drug. The search results will come up with the nearest pharmacies or the pharmacies with the best discounts. Patients may claim the discounts by either printing the coupon or sending it electronically to a mobile phone.

Guide to good med smartphone apps – National Consumers League

92_med_apps.jpgThree out of four Americans struggle to take their medications as directed, and this costs our healthcare system $300 billion every year! New smartphone apps can help consumers — especially those with chronic conditions or multiple medications — take their medication as directed and become healthier. These apps can be a great tool to help you keep track of your meds, but not all medication apps are alike and some are more useful than others.

Today’s health apps range from helping users eat healthier, to looking up symptoms, providing daily motivation tips, or helping you take your medications as directed (or adherence). 

The purpose of medication management apps is to help you take your medication(s) as directed. Once you download a medication management app, you are often asked to input information about all the meds you are taking, including the dose (how much), how often, and when you take them. The apps usually offer an alert or reminder when you are supposed to take each medication.

Before picking a medication management app check to make sure it has the following features:

  • Good Security – Apps often store your private, personal information so be sure to pick an app that has safeguards in place to protect you. The app should have a log-in that requires a password and a disclaimer that guarantees that your information will not be shared with third parties without your knowledge. The app should not ask you to provide sensitive, identifying information, such as your social security number.
  • Reminders – Reminders, often sent as alerts, remind you when to take your medications according to the times you have set. The best systems let you indicate that you have taken the medication, need to delay taking the medication, or have stopped taking the medication altogether. Make sure the reminder is in a format that works for you.
  • Personalizing Information You should be able to input medication in the form of pills, inhalers, injections, liquids, or other forms. Some medication management apps only allow a certain number of medications, which is not helpful if you are taking many medications or if you are managing medications for more than one family member.
  • “Notes” Field You should be able to add in additional information about who prescribed the medication, directions about taking the medication, or any additional information in a “notes” field.
  • Functionality (or usability) Make sure the app is available for your particular type of smart phone or tablet, and you feel comfortable using it. 

These additional features are helpful in a medication management app, but might require additional fees:

  • Tracking missed doses Apps that let you record whether you have taken or missed doses and use visual reports to track your progress can help you identify areas of weakness to improve overall adherence.
  • Sharing information with health care providers and family caregivers Apps that let you email, print, or export your prescriptions and habits can help make it easier to share this information with health care providers and family caregivers. Some apps allow your health care providers (with your permission) to update your medication regimen on your app and send you information automatically, which can be helpful when you need to make changes.
  • Dose limits Some medications have strict dose limits. For example, for pain medications with acetaminophen, it is important to not take more than directed. Apps that monitor the dose limits you input can be helpful to make sure you don’t take too much. These apps can adjust next dose reminders according to when you indicate you took your last dose, rather than on a strict “every X hours” type schedule, which could be harmful if you ended up taking your last dose late.
  • Options for caregivers If you manage the medications of one or more family members, some apps allow you to organize medication information and schedules for multiple family members.
  • Other reminders Some apps incorporate medication reminders that involve more than just an alert when it’s time to take your next medicine. This includes when you need to refill your prescription or when your prescription is about to expire.
  • Reminders for more complicated medication schedules – If you have a complicated medication schedule, make sure your app fit your needs. Does that app let you mark a medication “as needed” but with strict dose limits? Does it let you mark a medication “every X days rather than every day? Can you group your meds?
  • Medication database These apps access a database of medications that allow you to enter, search, and select medications. This feature can save time and improve accuracy when entering your medication’s name and schedule.
  • Accessing the app online Some apps have a companion website that allows you to input information from a computer and sync it to your smart phone or tablet.

Make sure the app you pick works for you and makes it easier to manage your medications. Always ask your health care provider if you have questions about when and how to take your medication. Medication management apps can help you take care of your health by helping you take your mediation as directed.

Education campaigns improve safe acetaminophen use – National Consumers League

Untitled-1.jpgAcetaminophen is the most commonly used drug ingredient in America. It is found in over 600 of the most commonly used over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription drugs, including Tylenol, Robitussin, Dayquil, Nyquil and so many more. An estimated 50 million Americans take acetaminophen every week. When taken as directed, acetaminophen is safe and effective. Taking too much acetaminophen, however, can cause severe liver damage.

Acetaminophen is the most commonly used drug ingredient in America. It is found in over 600 of the most commonly used over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription drugs, including Tylenol, Robitussin, Dayquil, Nyquil and so many more. An estimated 50 million Americans take acetaminophen every week. When taken as directed, acetaminophen is safe and effective. Taking too much acetaminophen, however, can cause severe liver damage.

Consumer education is a key step to ensuring safe acetaminophen use and preventing overdoses. A new report from the Acetaminophen Awareness Coalition (of which National Consumers League is a founding member) “Acetaminophen: How It’s Used, Preventing Overdose and What We Can Do to Promote Safe Use,” explores the successful impact of ongoing healthcare provider and consumer-led education campaigns. Over the last three years many organizations have launched new campaigns aimed at educating consumers about safe medicine use. Among these efforts is, launched by NCL in 2014 to educate teens on safe use of over-the-counter medications.

The report found that consumer awareness about safe medicine use between 2010 and 2013 improved across the board. In 2010, 90 percent of people said it’s dangerous to exceed maximum doses and 76 percent said they were aware they could overdose by doubling up on multiple medications with the same active ingredient. By 2013 those numbers improved to 98 percent and 81 percent respectively.

Perhaps the most substantial finding from the new report is that consumer education campaigns do work and do help consumers be more informed. In 2010, 78 percent of those surveyed understood that, “exceeding the recommended daily dose of acetaminophen may lead to liver damage.” By 2013 that number increased to 87 percent. Many stakeholders from different backgrounds are working on educating consumers about the dangers of acetaminophen overdose. We must keep up these efforts to reduce unintentional overdosing.

As an organization that runs many consumer education initiatives it is great to know these campaigns truly do create a more informed and healthy consumer base. 

So…what is Acetaminophen?

Acetaminophen is the most widely used pain reliever and fever reducer that temporarily relieves minor pains and aches such as those resulting from the common cold, muscle aches, headache, arthritis, allergies, and premenstrual and menstrual cramps.

To find out if a medicine you are taking contains acetaminophen, read the drug facts label. Here’s an example:

When used properly, acetaminophen is safe and effective. Like any medicine, however, there is a limit to how much should be taken in one day. The FDA recommends a maximum daily dose of no more than 4,000 milligrams (mg) of acetaminophen. The amount of acetaminophen in an individual product varies and you can find the amount listed in milligrams on the medicine label. Exceeding the daily limit, or overdosing on acetaminophen can lead to severe liver damage or death. Overdose occurs when consumers take too much at one time or take a second dose before they are supposed to in an effort to help manage the pain. Using multiple medications that contain acetaminophen can also result in misuse or overdose. It is important to read the directions carefully or ask your health care provider before taking any medicine.

Tips to Safely Use Acetaminophen

  1. Read and follow the medicine label.  Reading the labels provides consumers with need-to-know ingredients as well as proper usage directions. Find out if a medicine contains acetaminophen.
  2. Talk to your pharmacist/physician. Become more aware and informed about your prescribed or over-the-counter medicines. Ask questions about allergies, proper dosage, and how often the product should be used.
  3. Never take two acetaminophen-containing medicines at the same time. Double check the label, and don’t double up on acetaminophen.

For more information visit, Know Your Dose today!

Treating cold or flu? Take special care with OTC meds – National Consumers League

takewithcare.pngThere are more than 600 over-the-counter and prescription medications that contain acetaminophen making it the most commonly used drug ingredient in the United States. Acetaminpophen can be found in pain relievers, fever reducers, sleep aids, and cough, cold, and allergy medicine. It is especially important during cold and flu season to understand the dangers of mixing medicines.

When used correctly, acetaminophen is safe, effective, and able to treat many symptoms. When people take their medicine incorrectly, however, and consume more acetaminophen than the daily limit, serious liver damage is possible. The Know Your Dose campaign gives consumers three simple steps to make sure they do not misuse medicine containing acetaminophen:

  1. Make sure you read labels. Do not take more than the recommended doses on the label. Taking more acetaminophen than recommended can cause serious liver damage.
  2. Be aware of what medicine contains acetaminophen. Acetaminophen is listed as an active ingredient on over-the-counter drugs. On prescription drugs, it may be listed as “APAP” or “acetam.”
  3. Never take multiple medicines that contain acetaminophen. Using more than one medicine that contains Acetaminophen makes it much easier to accidentally overdose.

NCL recently launched, an interactive site for teens to educate them about the safe use of OTC pain medications. In a study, a majority of teens self report having used OTC pain medications, but overall teens lack knowledge about OTC pain medications. There is little awareness of the active ingredients in their pain medications and they lack familiarity with acetaminophen. Only one in four (27%) teens said they knew what the active ingredient is in their most-often used OTC pain medication.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued a recommendation to limit the amount of acetaminophen in all prescription pain relievers nationwide to 325mg per dose to prevent unintentional overdose. This cold and flu season NCL is encouraging consumers, and teens especially, to double check and not double up on medicines.

If you aren’t aware of exactly what ingredients are in the product you’re taking, you are putting yourself at risk for doubling-up on the same active ingredient and exposing your body to the potential harm caused by overdosing. Many consumers who self treat pain and 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.

In February 2014, the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) launched Gut Check: Know Your Medicine, an education campaign to encourage Americas to read the labels on their medication and be more aware of not taking multiple medications that include the same ingredients. The campaign includes a video that highlights the importance of reading and following OTC medicine labels

Visit today and share this resource with teens in your community.  For more resources on safe use of acetaminophen, visit

New study reveals disturbing price variation within chain retailers – National Consumers League

Chain drugstores are convenient, but are their prices fair and transparent? While savvy consumers know comparison shopping between physical retailers and online outlets is essential to saving money, new research reveals that comparing in-store prices at different locations of the same chain is just as important.

With drugstores expanding their offerings and vying for more of our dollars, Change to Win Retail Initiatives in partnership with the National Consumers League surveyed 485 Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid locations throughout the country to see how consistent in-store pricing is within each chain and how shoppers can get the best deals.

“Certainly consumers expect different chains to offer different deals,” said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of NCL, the nation’s pioneering consumer advocacy organization. “But price variation within a single chain is a wake-up call for consumers, who don’t tend to shop around and compare within a chain. This is a reminder that caveat emptor – let the buyer beware – applies even within the same chain, where prices may vary depending on where you’re shopping.”

Key findings for all markets surveyed include:

  • Walgreens prices were all over the map. Walgreens stores in a single market were up to five times more likely than a competitor to charge different prices for the same item. This price variation was not limited to one or two items; researchers encountered storewide price differences at Walgreens at a rate several times higher than the other chains in most markets.
  • Price differences at Walgreens often meant consumers were paying more. In every market surveyed, Walgreens had the greatest percentage of products that cost at least 10 percent more than the market’s lowest price.
  • Walgreens had the biggest price differences between its stores. In all markets surveyed, Walgreens had twice the number of products with a 20 percent or greater price range than did CVS. Rite Aid had virtually no products with that big of a gap. Walgreens also had significantly more items with a price range of a dollar or greater.

The study includes several tips for how shoppers can get the best price at drugstore chains. Tips include avoiding Walgreens flagship stores and asking managers about price matching.

Tips for Getting the Best Price
In addition to searching for sales and coupons, here are some tips for getting the best price at your drugstore:
Ask about price matching.
While none of the chains will match their online prices at brick-and-mortar locations, managers often have the ability to match prices from other stores within their chain.

Watch your wallet.

Shoppers can’t count on the price on the shelf to be the best the chain offers—especially at Walgreens. Keep track of the prices of your drugstore staples and shop around to find the best ones.

Avoid Walgreens “flagship” stores.

Walgreens has said that flagship stores are more expensive, and the survey found proof of that. The basket of items in the survey cost nearly 20 percent more —or $38 extra—at a flagship store in New York than it typically did at other Walgreens in the city.

‘Double Check, Don’t Double Up’ on acetaminophen this cold and flu season

A bad cold or the flu can stop you in your tracks. Each year, Americans catch an estimated 1 billion colds, and up to 20 percent get the flu. And most of us turn to medicine to relieve symptoms; but it is important that you read the label on your medicines to check for acetaminophen and don’t double up.

After the first of the year, it seems like influenza (flu) season magically appeared, with a fierce intensity. Cases of flu are growing fast, and it is predicted that this season might be one of the worst in years.

More than 600 different over-the-counter and prescription medicines contain acetaminophen, including many for cough, cold and flu. It is the most common drug ingredient in America and can be in many prescription medicines taken by people who suffer from chronic health conditions such as fibromyalgia, arthritis, or back pain. It can also be found in many different types of over-the-counter medicines taken by people with temporary conditions such as fever or aches and pains. Acetaminophen is safe and effective when used as directed but there is a limit to how much you can take in one day. Taking more than directed is an overdose and can lead to liver damage.

The National Consumers League is a member of the Acetaminophen Awareness Coalition, which educates consumers and patients about how to use medicines containing acetaminophen appropriately and to help change behaviors that could lead to an unintentional acetaminophen overdose. The Acetaminophen Awareness Coalition’s Know Your Dose Campaign wants consumers to “double check” their medicine label so they don’t “double up” on medicines containing acetaminophen. If you take medicine to relieve cold or flu symptoms, check your medicine label to know if your medicine contains acetaminophen.

Know Your Dose is promoting four important steps for safe acetaminophen use:

  1. Check if your medicine contains acetaminophen
  2. Never take two medicines that contain acetaminophen at the same time
  3. Always read and follow the medicine label
  4. Ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist if you have questions about dosing instructions or medicines containing acetaminophen.

If you are wondering how to actually read the label on your medication, check out this interactive Drug Facts Label. Here you can find out where to look to see if your medicine contains acetaminophen.

Learn more at Follow the Campaign on Twitter @KnowYourDose.

Changes for asthma medication – National Consumers League

Recently there has been important news from the Food and Drug Administration about the medications used to treat asthma. Understanding your asthma medications will help you understand your asthma and keep you healthy.

If you have asthma you should be seeing a health care practitioner and have a treatment plan in place, which may include medications. Asthma is usually treated with two kinds of medications – fast-acting inhalers (or rescue inhalers) and long-term controllers. Recently the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made some important announcements regarding both long-term controllers and fast-acting inhalers.

Long-term controllers: long-acting beta-agonists (LABAs)

LABAs are used as long-term asthma controllers relax muscles in the airways and lungs. They can help patients breathe easier and lessen symptoms of asthma such as wheezing and shortness of breath. Because of safety concerns, FDA is requiring changes to how LABAs are used to treat asthma. Studies have shown that use of LABAs increase the risk of hospitalization and even death.

FDA is now requiring the following to appear on the label to ensure the safe use of the LABAs:

  1. LABAs should only be used by those who cannot control their asthma with other medications, and then only for the shortest possible time.
  2. LABAs should never be used without also taking an asthma controller medication, like an inhaled corticosteroid. Medications that include both a LABA and an inhaled corticsteroid are Advair and Symbicort. Single ingredient LABAs such as Serevent and Foradil, should not be used alone.
  3. Children and teens should be prescribed only the combination LABAs to ensure compliance with both medications.

In addition to the label changes, FDA is requiring the manufacturers of LABAs to study the drug’s safety when combined with other drugs, such as inhaled corticosteroids. The manufacturers must also develop risk evaluation and mitigation strategies. These include new medication guides for patients and an education plan for healthcare professionals about the appropriate use of LABAs,

Fast-acting inhalers

Recently the FDA announced the phase out of seven fast acting inhalers that use chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Due to concerns about how CFCs damage the earth’s ozone, which protects life from the damaging effects of the sun’s ultraviolet rays, the US has been banning the use of CFCs since the 1970s. CFCs, which make the contents of a canister spray out, have been banned in most consumer aerols, (such as hairspray) for decades. CFCs aren’t harmful to people. Medical devices using CFCs are among the last to be affected.

Many manufacturers have reformulated or are reformulating their inhalers so they don’t contain CFCs. Four of the seven inhalers that were part of FDA’s announcement are no longer being made. The three other inhalers will be phased out over the next three years, and will be banned after the end of 2013. A new way of delivering asthma medications has started replacing CFCs and is called hydrofluoroalkane (HFA). It has been used in inhalers for more than a decade and will continue to replace CFC inhalers as they’re phased out.

The asthma medication in the new inhalers is the same. Only the way the inhaler gets the medicine to your lungs is different. If you use one of the CFC inhalers being phased out, talk to your health care practitioner about using another type of inhaler that does not use CFCs

For more information on the devices that are no longer being made and whose sale will be forbidden after 2013 see the FDA’s announcement.