European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology

, Volume 71, Issue 11, pp 1389–1396 | Cite as

Use of over-the-counter (OTC) drugs and perceptions of OTC drug safety among German adults

  • E Barrenberg
  • E GarbeEmail author
Pharmacoepidemiology and Prescription



In Europe, little empirical evidence is available about over-the-counter (OTC) drug consumption and risk perceptions. The objective of this study was to describe consumers’ OTC drug use and perceptions of OTC drug safety in Germany.


An online survey based on a quota sample with combined strata for age, gender, and education of 300 adult German participants was conducted in June and July 2013. The survey questionnaire covered the participants’ OTC and prescription drug use, risk perceptions of OTC and prescription drugs, package leaflet reading habits, and OTC drug off-label use.


Seven day prevalences of OTC drug use were higher in women (52.0 %) than in men (40.8 %). The risk perception of specific OTC drugs was impacted by the route of administration, the indication, and the drugs’ ingredients. Products for dermal application or plant-based products were considered ‘rather not risky’ by 82.7–96.6 % of the participants, depending on the product. Products for oral use or chemically synthesized substances were considered less safe. While 48.0 % of consumers reported always reading the package leaflet of OTC drugs, 44.5 % reported not reading it if they knew the drug or believed the drug was very safe. People, 60 years and older, reported significantly lower levels of OTC drug off-label use (9.3 %) than younger people (22.0 %).


The 7-day prevalence of OTC drug use in Germany is high, especially among women. Consumers generally have balanced perceptions regarding OTC drug safety. Behaviours and knowledge related to OTC drug use should be considered by health care providers and regulators.


Non-prescription drugs OTC drugs Risk perception Survey 



The authors wish to thank IMS Health for kindly having provided information about 30 OTC drugs most commonly sold in Germany and Heike Gerds for proofreading.

Conflict of interest

The study did not receive any external funding. EB has no conflict of interest. EG is running a department that occasionally performs studies for pharmaceutical industries. These companies include Bayer, Celgene, GSK, Mundipharma, Novartis, Sanofi, Sanofi Pasteur MSD, and STADA. EG has been a consultant to Bayer, Nycomed, Teva, GSK, Schwabe and Novartis.

Author contributions

EB and EG conceptualized the study. EB conducted the data analysis and prepared the manuscript, and EG provided substantive intellectual input and critically reviewed the manuscript.

Supplementary material

228_2015_1929_MOESM1_ESM.docx (16 kb)
Supplementary Table 1 (DOCX 15.6 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Clinical EpidemiologyLeibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology - BIPS GmbHBremenGermany
  2. 2.Core Scientific Area ‘Health Sciences’ at the University of BremenBremenGermany

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