Commonly Abused Over-the-Counter (OTC) Drugs in Nigeria and Their Side Effects 

Bamise Adeseun

Over-the-Counter (OTC) drugs are medications that can be purchased without a doctor’s prescription. They are intended to treat minor health issues like headaches, colds, and allergies. However, in Nigeria, as in many other parts of the world, the misuse and abuse of these readily accessible medications is a growing concern. Abuse of OTC drugs can lead to severe health consequences, including addiction, organ damage, and even death. This post explores some commonly abused OTC drugs in Nigeria, their associated side effects and the pivotal role telemedicine has to play in combatting it.  

 Commonly abused OTC Drugs in Nigeria 

1. Paracetamol (Acetaminophen)

 Paracetamol is widely used for its analgesic (pain-relieving) and antipyretic (fever-reducing) properties. It is often considered safe when used as directed, but it is one of the most commonly abused OTC drugs in Nigeria. Many people take it daily for different things from recuring headaches or fever, to soften meats, to ingesting it for an undiagnosed condition regularly and consuming overdoses of pills. 

 Abuse and Side Effects

Overdose: Taking large doses can lead to severe liver damage, which may be fatal. The liver metabolizes paracetamol, and excessive amounts produce toxic metabolites that the liver cannot process, leading to acute liver failure. 

Chronic Use: Regular misuse can lead to kidney damage and gastrointestinal problems. 

2. Antibiotics

Antibiotics are frequently available for purchase without prescription in Nigeria. This easy accessibility leads to improper use, as individuals may not have the necessary medical knowledge to use these drugs correctly. They are vital in the fight against bacterial infections, but their misuse can lead to significant public health issues, including antibiotic resistance.  

 Abuse and Side Effects 

In Nigeria, several common practices contribute to the misuse of antibiotics: 

Self-Medication: One of the most prevalent issues is the tendency for individuals to self-medicate. People often purchase antibiotics without a prescription and use them based on their own judgment or advice from non-medical personnel. 

The use as a contraceptive: Some Nigerians use antibiotics such as Ampilcillin commonly known as Ampliclox as a post pill.  

Incomplete Courses of Treatment: Many Nigerians stop taking antibiotics as soon as they feel better, rather than completing the prescribed course. This practice allows bacteria to survive and potentially develop resistance to the antibiotic. 

Use for Viral Infections: Antibiotics are often incorrectly used to treat viral infections such as the common cold, flu, or COVID-19. Since antibiotics are ineffective against viruses, this misuse does not alleviate symptoms and can contribute to resistance. 

You shouldn’t self-medicate, talk to a doctor for as low as N1000 a month for the right prescriptions.  

3. Anti-malaria Drugs

 Malaria remains a significant public health challenge in Nigeria, which leads to widespread use of anti-malaria drugs. However, alongside their essential role in treating and preventing malaria, these drugs are often misused, contributing to drug resistance and other health issues. 

 Common Misuse of Anti-Malaria Drugs and Side Effects 


 Many individuals self-diagnose and treat presumed malaria without proper medical consultation or confirmation through diagnostic tests. This practice can lead to inappropriate use of anti-malaria drugs. 

Use for Non-Malarial Fevers

Fever is commonly mistaken for malaria in Nigeria, leading to the use of anti-malaria drugs for other febrile illnesses. This misuse can delay the correct diagnosis and treatment of the actual illness. 

 The misuse of anti-malaria drugs has severe consequences: 

Drug Resistance: The most significant impact of misuse is the development of drug-resistant malaria strains. Resistance to drugs like chloroquine and sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine has already been documented, and resistance to ACTs is a growing concern. 

Treatment Failure: Misuse can lead to treatment failures, prolonging illness and increasing the risk of severe malaria and death. 

4. Levonorgestrel

A contraceptive commmonly known as Postinor prescribed to be used 1 cycle in a month but often abused.  

Abuse and Side effects 

It is usually taken after every sexual encounter and Overuse can lead to hormonal imbalance and irregular bleeding.  

5. Over-The-Counter Eye drops

OTC Eye drops are often used to treat mild eye irritations, but what happens in a case of self-diagnosis gone wrong for an eye concern? It can usually lead to further complications. Because the eye area is a very delicate one that needs to be examined by a medical practitioner if one notices any changes, it’s often advised that when you’ve got any eye scares, one should contact their health care provider rather than resorting to self-medication.  

6. Cough Syrups Containing Codeine

Codeine is an opioid used to treat mild to moderate pain and is often found in cough syrups. Despite its legitimate medical uses, codeine is frequently abused for its euphoric effects. 

Abuse and Side Effects

Addiction: Codeine can be highly addictive, leading to dependence and withdrawal symptoms. 

Respiratory Issues: High doses can depress the respiratory system, leading to slowed or difficulty breathing. 

Digestive Problems: Constipation, nausea, and vomiting are common. 

Long-term Effects

– Liver damage due to the combination of codeine with other drugs like paracetamol in cough syrups. 

– Increased tolerance, requiring higher doses to achieve the same effects, which further increases the risk of overdose. 

7. Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

Common NSAIDs include ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen. These drugs are used to reduce pain, inflammation, and fever. 

 Abuse and Side Effects: 

Gastrointestinal Issues: Long-term use can cause stomach ulcers, bleeding, and gastrointestinal perforation. 

Kidney Damage: Chronic use can lead to kidney damage or failure. 

Cardiovascular Problems: Increased risk of heart attack or stroke with prolonged use. 

 8. Laxatives

Laxatives are used to treat constipation but can be abused, particularly by individuals with eating disorders. 

Abuse and Side Effects: 

– Dehydration: Excessive use can lead to severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. 

– Digestive Problems: Chronic use can cause permanent damage to the digestive tract and dependence on laxatives for bowel movements. 

– Kidney Damage: Electrolyte imbalances can lead to kidney damage or failure. 

Commonly abused OTC Drugs and the pivotal role Telemedicine has to play in combatting it

 To mitigate the abuse of OTC drugs in Nigeria, several measures can be taken: 

1. Education: Public awareness campaigns about the dangers of OTC drug abuse. Also, more and more people need to be well informed that their first point of contact should be their doctor when experiencing a mild symptom persistently not some OTC drug they’ve kept in their drawer or can easily grab at a pharmacy. If people are well informed about these, it will go a long a way to reducing the risk of OTC drug abuse in the society. 

2. Regulation: Stricter regulations and monitoring of the sale of OTC drugs.

3. Healthcare Provider Vigilance: Training healthcare providers to recognize signs of OTC drug abuse and provide appropriate interventions.

4. Support Systems: Establishing support systems and treatment options for those struggling with addiction.

5. Telemedicine Services Awareness: In an era where healthcare needs to be accessible and immediate, telemedicine stands as a vital tool in the fight against drug abuse. These services bring healthcare closer to the people by attending to non-emergency primary care and wellness conditions

 The Pivotal role of Telemedicine in combatting OTC Drug Abuse 

A telemedicine company can play a pivotal role in addressing and mitigating OTC drug abuse through various strategies and services, however, here’s how HealthConnect247, a 24/7 Telemedicine Company helps combat OTC Drug abuse in Nigeria:  

By Providing Immediate Access to Professional Medical Advice: Our Telemedicine services offer round-the-clock access to healthcare professionals, allowing individuals to seek advice at any time. This accessibility ensures that people can consult a doctor instead of self-medicating with OTC drugs, reducing the likelihood of misuse. 

 Through Educating Patients about the Risks of OTC Drug Abuse: Through consultations, our healthcare providers inform patients about the proper use of medications, correct dosages, potential side effects & interaction with other drugs, the risks of dependency & overdose, and the importance of adhering to medical advice, fostering a culture of responsible medication use. 

Through Offering Safe and Effective Alternatives: When patients seek help for common ailments like headaches, colds, or minor pains, our medical practitioners recommend safe and effective treatments tailored to the individual’s health profile. This approach reduces reliance on OTC medications and ensure that patients receive appropriate care. 

Through Facilitating Prescription Management:  Our Telemedicine services help streamline the process of obtaining necessary prescriptions, reducing the temptation for patients to use OTC drugs as a substitute for prescription medications. Our healthcare providers easily prescribe appropriate medications and ensure patients receive the correct dosage and treatment duration. 

Access to Mental Health Support: OTC drug abuse is sometimes linked to underlying mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, or stress. Our telemedicine services offer mental health support which can help address these root causes, providing counseling, therapy to those in need. 

Talk to Psychologist for as low as N3,000 a month with Healthconnect247 

Over-the-counter drugs are convenient solutions for minor ailments, but their misuse can lead to serious health risks. In Nigeria, the abuse of medications like paracetamol, codeine-containing cough syrups, NSAIDs, antibiotics, anti-malaria drugs, and laxatives is alarming. Understanding the dangers and side effects of these drugs is crucial for promoting safe usage. Through education, regulation, and support systems, combined with the immediate, accessible care provided by telemedicine services like HealthConnect247, we can combat OTC drug abuse and safeguard public health. Let’s prioritize responsible medication use and embrace telemedicine as a key ally in this fight. 

Read Also: Am I really spending less with Self-medication? 


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