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Drug Facts Label


Before you choose and consume over-the-counter medicine, you should know the basics about reading and understanding the Drug Facts Label.


Lesson Objectives

  • Understand the purpose of each component of the Drug Facts Label.
  • Develop strategies to use Drug Facts Labels when managing medication.
  • Support the fact that over-the-counter medications are drugs.


Drug Facts Label Pre-Quiz

Over-the-Counter Medicines are Drugs

“In wise hands, poison is medicine. In foolish hands, medicine is a poison.” -Casanova (1725–1798)

One of the biggest problems with over-the counter drug use is that teenagers do not believe these medications, which are so prevalent, can also be dangerous. For most teens, the drugs are available in the family medicine cabinet or can be found sitting on the kitchen counter next to the vitamins. They are also readily available in grocery stores, convenience stores, and even vending machines. While over-the counter-medications do not require a doctor’s prescription, they do require our respect. They are substances, as Casanova reminds us, which taken incorrectly or in combination with other drugs, can be harmful or even fatal. Becoming aware of some of the issues surrounding OTC medicines is important to your health.


First, recognize that OTCs are drugs. While the word “drug” conjures up ideas of danger, illegal activity, and addiction, it simply means “a chemical substance used in the treatment, cure, prevention, or diagnosis of a disease.” Whether it is the aspirin you take for a headache, the acetaminophen you take for sore muscles, or the nasal spray you use when you are really congested—you are putting drugs into your body when you self-medicate with OTC drugs.


Over-the-counter drugs are recognized as safe to take for self-diagnosed conditions. This “safety” depends on several factors:

  • The Food and Drug Administration oversees over-the-counter drugs to make sure that “they are properly labeled and that their benefits outweigh their risks.”
  • Regulations require the companies that produce the drugs to monitor the safety of the manufacturing process, package them carefully, and market them responsibly.
  • Consumers must consider the possible dangers of OTC medicine. The consumer’s responsibility is to read the Drug Facts Label and to monitor the dosage and the active ingredients of all medicines they are taking.


The skillful advertising and persuasive packaging used to promote over-the-counter medications target the common ailments most of us experience. Advertising promotes a product specifically for an aliment or condition. However, when you purchase one OTC medicine for a headache, another for sore muscles, and another for a cold, you may be setting the scene for a drug overdose. Those three medicines (for headache, sore muscles, and a cold) could all have the same active ingredient.


When buying medicine it is vitally important to carefully inspect the Drug Facts Label and pay particular attention to the Active Ingredient portion. It is easy to pick up a medication that you hope will make you feel better and forget that there could be interactions with other medications you are using. If you consume more than one over-the-counter or prescription drug at the same time you could cause an unintentional overdose, or have another dangerous reaction to the medicine.


Reading the Drug Facts Label is your first defense and the best way to stay safe. But you should contact a health care professional if you have any questions about a medicine or the medicine’s interaction with others you use.


Friends who mean well might offer you a painkiller after a strenuous sports practice, but without a chance to examine the label you cannot be sure about the use, dosage, or strength of the medicine.


Becoming educated and staying cautious about the drugs you use can help make over-the-counter drugs an effective way to manage common discomfort or illness. Use and understand the Drug Facts Label to keep yourself and others safe.

Drug Facts Label Game


What does OTC stand for?

Over-the-counter medicine or medicines that do not require a prescription; they are available for purchase without consulting a medical professional.


What are dosage instructions?

Dosage instructions describe how often and how much medicine to take. Dosage instructions sometimes reference age and/or weight. You should follow them unless a heath care professional specifically tells you to take the medicine differently.


What is the Drug Facts Label?

Designed by the Food and Drug Administration, the Drug Facts Label provides information about the safe use of over-the-counter medicines. The Drug Facts Label regulation requires the same format and order of information on every OTC medicine label. The FDA approves every OTC medicine label.


When taking more than one over-the-counter medicine, which section of the Drug Facts Label should you check carefully?

Check and double-check the active ingredient section. While each section of the label is important, this particular section of the label will determine if the medicines you are taking contain the same active ingredients. Taking the recommended dose of two medicines containing the same active ingredient could result in an overdose.


How do I measure liquid medications accurately?

Generally, the measuring tool that comes with the medication is the accurate tool to use, but if you do not have a medicine-measuring tool use the following equivalents:  5ml=1 teaspoon, 15mil=1 Tablespoon, 30 ml=1 fluid ounce


Can I measure liquid medicine with a teaspoon?

Yes, you can, but you shouldn’t. Spoons are for eating, not necessarily for accurately measuring medicine. If the liquid medicine does not come with a measuring tool, ask your pharmacist for one. Pharmacies often have them to give to customers who need them.

Drug Facts Label Post-Quiz