on 21 May 2020 in At Home, At the Pharmacy

Read the Label: Understanding the Drug Facts Label on Over The Counter Medicines

The OTC Drug Facts Label ~

What do your aspirin, cough syrup, and seasonal allergy treatments have in common? They are all examples of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines – and that means that they all have a Drug Facts label on their packaging. You’ve probably seen this label many times before: it’s been the FDA-required standard for OTC product labeling for almost twenty years. The Drug Facts label helps to provide the essential information about an OTC medicine in an easy-to-read and easy-to-understand, uniform format.

Before taking any medicine (whether it’s prescription or OTC) it’s critically important to read the label. Reading the label can help you to understand the amount to take, how to take it, and provides any warnings. The Drug Facts label contains the following sections to help you to understand the critical information you need to know about your OTC medicine:


The OTC Drug Facts Label

  • Active ingredient(s): States the name and amount of the therapeutic ingredient(s) (i.e., what makes the medicine “work”)
  • Purpose: Tells you what the active ingredient does
  • Use(s): Specifies all of the symptoms that the medicine is intended to treat
  • Warnings: Indicates any side effects that you should look out for, when you may need to consult with a doctor or pharmacist, and whether there may be specific circumstances (e.g., health conditions, interactions with other medicines) that could make the medicine unsafe for you to take
  • Directions: Tells you how to safely use the medicine (e.g., when to take it, how much to take, and when to stop taking it)
  • Other information: Details specific instructions on storage conditions for your medicine
  • Inactive ingredients: Lists all of the ingredients in the medicine that are not meant to treat symptoms (e.g., food coloring, preservatives, and fillers)

Read the label first

Reading the label before taking any medicine is critical: it can help you to take the correct dose, recognize side effects, and understand when to speak with your pharmacist or doctor. Your medicine’s label and packaging are also helpful resources for understanding proper storage conditions – and even how long you can store the product before disposing of it properly.

Safely dispose of expired medicine

Your OTC product’s expiration date isn’t included on the Drug Facts label but can typically be found printed on the outer packaging, or directly on the bottle or blister pack of the medicine. The FDA recommends not to use your medicine when it’s past the expiration date, as there is no guarantee that it will be effective or even safe to take. You should always check the expiration date before taking medicine, and dispose of it securely and promptly once it’s expired or no longer needed.

Due to possible disruptions associated with COVID-19, kiosk access to and operating hours at the listed kiosk locations may be impacted. If you have questions about a kiosk site, including current kiosk access, what can be disposed of, and hours of operation, contact the kiosk site directly. If you are not able to visit a kiosk and have immediate disposal needs, visit the FDA website for additional guidance and be sure to comply with all applicable federal, state, and local legal requirements.

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