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OTC (Over-the-Counter) Drug Industry Research, Data, Statistics & Trends

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Global Over-The-Counter Drug Industry

OTC medicines are pharmaceutical drugs for which no prescription is necessary. They are sold in pharmacies or other retail outlets and are used in the prevention and treatment of relatively minor ailments such as headaches and heartburn. These kinds of drugs are not necessarily dispensed by professionals with medical knowledge, though they can have side effects or interfere with other medicines. Restricted OTC substances are generally sold in outlets employing a registered pharmacist.

Over-the-counter drug industry statistics show that this kind of medicines is the first port of call for physicians and patients alike in the treatment of minor ailments, with close to 90% of medical care providers recommending patients self-treat minor conditions and the vast majority of patients taking this option. OTC upper respiratory infection medications represent savings of more than $4.5 billion a year for the US healthcare system, while OTC medications to treat heartburn mean savings of close to $760 million annually, or almost $175 per person, reports the Consumer Healthcare Products Association. 

Over the Counter Drug Regulations

The regulatory body for OTC products in the US is the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Despite regulations on OTC medicines, their responsible use remains a concern. The government takes some legislative measures to try to prevent the abuse of these medicines. Cough medicine containing dextromethorphan (DXM) have been widely abused by teenagers in the US, prompting a State Senator to enact legislation restricting the sale of cough medicine containing DXM to minors.

Medicines sold as prescription drugs can be cleared for sale as OTC medicines, granting greater accessibility to consumers. The switchover segment of the market is to show substantial growth. To comply with OTC status requirements, a medicine must be safe, effective and well labeled to provide consumers with comprehensive information about the treatment and its possible side effects. The Consumer Healthcare Products Association reports over 700 over the counter products on sale today contain ingredients or dosages that necessitated a prescription less than three decades ago.

Best-Selling OTC Drugs

Cough and cold medicines constitute the top selling OTC medicine for sale on the US market. Painkillers are the second-biggest seller. Heartburn medicines were in third place. Other popular OTC products include laxatives, oral antiseptics, and rinses, first aid care, sunscreen, oral hygiene and contact lens products.

Topical OTC drugs are another important market segment. Antiseptic cleansers account for the largest part of the topical OTC medicines market at almost 60%, with anti-itch products in second place at almost 28%, followed by anesthetic products, which represent more than 10% of the segment.

OTC Drug Industry Leaders

Novartis is a world leader in the OTC products industry. The company employs more than 115,000 people across 140 countries, with almost half of them working in the EU. Its extensive OTC product portfolio includes Bufferin and Excedrin used in pain management, anti-inflammatory Volterin, fiber supplements Pursennid and Benefiber. Its cough/cold products include Buckley’s, Comtrex, and Sinecod along with sore throat treatments Lemocin, Mebucaine, and Orofar. Novartis sells respiratory products Otrivin, Rhinomer, and 4-Way for the treatment of nasal congestion.

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