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Revista Panamericana de Salud Pública

On-line version ISSN 1680-5348Print version ISSN 1020-4989


HEINECK, Isabela; SCHENKEL, Eloir Paulo  and  VIDAL, Xavier. Over-the-counter drugs in Brazil. Rev Panam Salud Publica [online]. 1998, vol.3, n.6, pp.385-391. ISSN 1680-5348.

In this study we examined the 100 over-the-counter drugs that were most widely sold in Brazil from June 1992 to June 1993. We excluded 23 food products that were classified as medicinal. The sample, which included 77 drugs, was representative of about 67% of all sales in monetary value, and 76.8% of all units sold of the different classes of over-the-counter drugs. The anatomical-therapeutic-chemical (ATC) system was used to classify the various drugs; each class of drugs was also graded according to a scale of its intrinsic value, taking into account effectiveness and risks. Most classes of drugs (91%) showed "little intrinsic value" (that is, were of questionable or no value, of relative value, or unacceptable), and 70% were fixed-dose combinations. Only 10 classes of drugs were included in the Ministry of Health's National Drug List, and four appeared in WHO's list of essential drugs. The therapeutic classes to which the drugs belonged were, in descending order of frequency, for the digestive tract, skin, genitourinary system, musculo-skeletal system, central nervous system, parasitic diseases, respiratory tract, and sensory system. The therapeutic subgroup that commanded the highest sales was that of the non-opiate analgesics and antipyretics. Our results confirm the hypothesis that over-the-counter drugs in Brazil are of poor therapeutic quality and that the use of many such drugs is a source of unnecessary expense for the population. Some of them should not be accessible to individuals who lack current knowledge of their side effects, since 25% of all cases of poisoning in the country are related to self-medication. Modifying the public's perception of the need for taking drugs to relieve their ailments is one approach that may improve their use of medications in the long term.

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