Motrin, Tylenol, Bayer, and Ecotrin are big sellers in the headache aisle

December 15, 2008

Exclusive DT survey: Pharmacies are selling more OTC headache medications.

Key Points

It's much easier for most consumers to ask a pharmacist about headache products than to do research on their own. So it should come as no surprise that a recent Drug Topics study found pharmacists, on average, counsel 19 patients each week on over-the-counter (OTC) headache medications.

The exclusive study included questions for pharmacists about what influences their recommendations for headache medications, how often they approach customers to offer tips for finding the appropriate OTC headache product, and how often customers take the advice. The survey also revealed the brands and products pharmacists most frequently recommend for headache relief.

Survey results from 262 respondents indicate an increase in the number of headache products sold this year over one year ago. In fact, 57 percent of the pharmacists who responded said they were selling more OTC headache medications. Pharmacists seem to have varying opinions about what is driving the perceived increase in demand for these products, according to the survey.

Fifty-six percent of respondents said annual revenues generated for their stores by OTC products in 2007 had increased, compared to 2006. Forty-three percent say OTCs contributed the same percentage to their budget in 2007 as they did in 2006. Only 1 percent completely disagreed, saying that the percentage had actually decreased.

Most respondents had a few ideas for manufacturers seeking to improve sales of their headache products. More advertising, better product design, and more specific information about side effects, price, and dosage were among the suggestions. "Be more truthful, stop duplication, and stop using combinations of no health value," one pharmacist said.

When asked how they would like manufacturers to help with the sales of these OTC medications, the answer pharmacists gave most often was "Offer more coupons." Some respondents even went so far as to say the coupons should be limited to customers shopping at independent pharmacies.

With sales of these medications of such great concern to pharmacists and with a large percentage of revenue coming from OTC medications, it's logical to suppose that pharmacists would make a practice of reaching out to assist consumer decisions. But the survey shows that 88 percent of the time, customers initiated discussions about OTC headache medications. Women between the ages of 31 and 50 made up the majority of those counseled.

Pharmacists spoke with male customers about the same products approximately 38 percent of the time, the survey showed. Only 8 percent of respondents' recommendations were for children between the ages of 13 and 18, and 4 percent were for patients 12 or younger.

Pharmacists say it's important to stay up-to-date on OTC headache formulations in order to offer the best recommendations.

Some pharmacists even made the final decision for the consumer, according to survey results. Pharmacists say they typically make that suggestion after spending only three minutes with customers.

According to the survey results, the top two OTC acetaminophen products pharmacists currently recommend for adults are Tylenol and Excedrin. The top two OTC aspirin products recommended for adults are Ecotrin and Bayer. Of the other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), the top two OTC headache products recommended by pharmacists are Advil and Motrin. The top two OTC headache products pharmacists recommend for children are Children's Motrin and Children's Tylenol.

Ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin are all NSAIDs. Ibuprofen and naproxen are the most potent and are very similar to one another. The only true difference between ibuprofen and naproxen is their duration of action. Naproxen is believed to be the longest-acting NSAID. Both are very hard on the stomach and should be taken with food. Long-term use of either product can lead to stomach ulcers and bleeding, according to The Consultant Pharmacist journal. Most pharmacists said that of the four products, they prefer ibuprofen and recommend it most often.

When counseling customers, respondents said, they give a variety of information. Some said they "just talk to patients," while others said they simply provide the medication's package insert. One pharmacist said he takes the time to share his 28 years of experience if the customer will listen. But not every pharmacist will offer such counsel. Some respondents said they do not counsel customers on OTC headache medications, referring them instead to the manufacturer.

Pharmacists said that consumers often bring in guides or information to help them make a decision, including statements they've heard on television or seen in magazine advertisements. According to the pharmacists polled, dispelling rumors or false advertising can often be one of the biggest challenges during these counseling sessions.