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May 1997

Self-administration of Over-the-counter Medication for Pain Among Adolescents

Author Affiliations

From the Departments of Psychology (Ms Chambers and Drs Reid, McGrath, and Finley), Pediatrics (Dr McGrath), and Anaesthesia (Dr Finley) and the Pain and Palliative Care Service (Drs McGrath and Finley), The Izaak Walton Killam—Grace Health Centre and Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia.; Ms Chambers is now with the Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Dr Reid is now with the Department of Psychology, The Toronto Hospital, Toronto, Ontario.

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1997;151(5):449-455. doi:10.1001/archpedi.1997.02170420019003

Objective:  To examine over-the-counter (OTC) medication use and self-administration of medication among adolescents.

Design:  In-person survey.

Settings:  Three public junior high schools in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Participants:  Six hundred fifty-one junior high school students (7th, 8th, and 9th grades).

Main Outcome Measures:  A questionnaire regarding OTC medication use and self-administration for head; stomach; ear and throat; muscle, joint, and back; and menstrual pains.

Results:  Of those who reported taking medication, many adolescents (58.7%-95.9%) reported taking OTC medications for each pain. Medications and knowledge about medications were obtained from a variety of sources, primarily parents. Self-administration was widespread; 58.3% to 75.9% of adolescents reported taking an OTC medication for pain without first checking with an adult in the previous 3 months. Self-administration of medication without the knowledge of adults increased significantly from grades 7 to 9 for all types of pain. Girls tended to self-administer medication more than boys. Higher levels of pain frequency and intensity were related to higher levels of self-administration for all pains except muscle, joint, and back pain. Adolescents reported that they began to self-administer medication between the ages of 11 and 12 years.

Conclusion:  Although a relatively responsible picture of self-administration of medication emerges, some adolescents engaged in inappropriate OTC medication use (eg, the common use of aspirin), highlighting the importance of providing adolescents with correct information about these medications.Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1997;151:449-455