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Examining the gender dimension in the non-medical use of over the counter and prescription only medication

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Rosalind Gittins, Joseph Tay Wee Teck, and Anna Madill


October 26, 2022


There is concern regarding gender differences in problematic non-medical over the counter (OTC) and/or prescription only medication (POM) use. This issue has traditionally been considered a predominantly male and/or younger persons’ problem, but more recent transnational evidence shows that women across their life-course are increasingly and often more severely affected. Nevertheless, the bulk of research, policy and treatment services continue to be focused on men. This suggests the need for increased awareness, a shift in research and policy agenda and improved treatment access and engagement approaches, informed by a robust examination of the gender dimension. We present here a summary of current evidence around the epidemiology of non-medical use of OTC and POM and highlight the gender differences across the domains of healthcare interactions, changes across the life-course, experiences of trauma and barriers to obtaining support. We conclude by proposing a re-gendering agenda to challenge the ‘male by default’ tendency when designing, delivering and evaluating treatment services. For example, utilising co-production with a strengths-based approach has been found to balance gender power with positive outcomes for participants. Such approaches can help to address stigma and marginalisation, by embedding the lived experiences and voices of women in designing and providing treatment services, safe spaces and gender-sensitive treatment programs. It also means promoting coordinated, holistic, multidisciplinary and multi-agency approaches, and establishing a research strategy to fill knowledge gaps around the experiences of women. These changes should improve engagement with treatment services and consequent outcomes, especially in relation to OTC/POM.

This research was published in the Drug Science, Policy and Law Journal the definitive source of evidence-based information and comment for academics, scientists, policymakers, frontline workers and the general public on drugs and related issues

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