Evaluation of Over-the-Counter Medication Knowledge and Literacy in Adolescent Students

Document Type


Publication Date




To 1) assess and compare knowledge and literacy of over-the-counter (OTC) medications among middle school (MS) and high school (HS) students, and 2) to assess student self-identified lack of knowledge regarding OTC medications.


A convenience sample of suburban adolescent students completed a 2-part survey about OTC medications: part 1 included demographics and baseline knowledge of OTCs, and part 2 included medication label interpretation (literacy). Descriptive statistics and chi-square test were used to summarize and compare responses among MS and HS students.


Students (n = 309) were in MS (46.2%) and HS (53.8%), with a mean age of 14 ± 1.8 years, 61.4% male, 81.2% white, and 84.3% non-Hispanic. A majority of students (68.5%) agreed that they always speak with an adult before taking medication. Students responded correctly to 19% of brand versus generic knowledge questions; conversely, 65% selected “I don't know.” Similar trends were seen for questions about medication indications (26% correct, 59% didn't know), side-effects (8% correct, 67% didn't know), and combining medications (21% correct, 63% didn't know). When students referenced a medication label, 55% answered label interpretation questions correctly and 30% reported “I don't know.” HS students answered more questions correctly and were less likely to report “I don't know” to questions about common OTC medications (eg, ibuprofen, Tylenol, etc) compared with MS students (P < .05).


Overall, baseline knowledge of OTC medications was low; however, students were better at interpretation of drug labels. MS students self-reported less knowledge about common OTC medications compared with HS students. This study provides an important foundation for future OTC medication educational programs for adolescents.



Additional Files