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Campaign aims to simplify OTC drug labels

Americans buy about five billion over-the-counter drugs each year to treat routine health problems. The number has increased as more and more drugs have made the switch from prescription to over-the-counter status. But many Americans, particularly senior citizens, misuse over-the-counter drugs because the lettering is too small. Consumers have also complained that words like "indications," and "precautions" are too technical and confusing.//

The National Council on Patient Information and Education started a campaign with help from the Food and Drug Administration and other health organizations. Boldly printed drug labels and a new education campaign are the issues to be considered by consumer advocates and the government to make OTC drugs more user friendly.

The campaign, which will include television and radio spots, coincides with the government's changeover to new labels for these drugs. Most over-the-counter drugs manufactured after May will carry the new standardized "Drug Facts" label. The remainder of such drugs will comply by 2005. The FDA estimates that scores of medications are already carrying the new label.

"The purpose was to create simplicity," said Dr. Linda Katz, deputy director of FDA's division of OTC Products. She added that the new labels carry a larger print size to help consumers read the products. The use of bullets, spacing between lines and clearly marked sections are other changes aimed at improving the reading ability.

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