Surveying Over the Counter and Prescription Only Medication Misuse in Treatment Services During COVID-19

Rosalind Gittins, Roya Vaziri, Ian Maidment

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: A greater understanding of Over the Counter (OTC) and Prescription Only Medication (POM) misuse amongst adults accessing substance misuse services (SMS) during COVID-19 is required to identify how SMS can better meet the needs of the people who require treatment.

AIM: To use a questionnaire to explore OTC/POM misuse during COVID-19 in adults accessing community SMS in England.

METHODS: In 2020 to 2021 anonymous self-administered online/paper questionnaires which collated quantitative and qualitative data were completed. They were piloted for suitability and ethical approval was obtained. Thematic analysis was conducted for qualitative data and chi-square tests used to assess the relationship between quantitative variables.

RESULTS: Participants were Caucasian (94.6% British), majority male (58.9%), aged 18 to 61 years. Most were prescribed medication for problematic substance use, with a 92.5% self-reported adherence rate. The misuse of benzodiazepines (22.2%) codeine products (30.8%) and pregabalin (14.5%) predominated and 37.5% misused 2 or more medicines. Administration was usually oral and concomitant use of other substances was common: alcohol 44.6% (52% daily), tobacco/vaping 73.2% and illicit substances 58.9%. There were statistically significant associations identified, including between changes during COVID-19 to OTC/POM misuse and illicit use. Only 56 questionnaires were included in the analysis: we believe this low number was because of infection control measures, limited footfall in services, pressures on staff limiting their capacity to distribute the paper questionnaires and reliance upon telephone consultations limiting online distribution. Increasing OTC/POM misuse and obtaining illicit supplies were reported when access to usual supplies were restricted; however, changes to doses/dispensing arrangement liberalisation in response to COVID-19 were positively viewed.

CONCLUSION: OTC/POM misuse, including polypharmacy and concomitant use of other substances occurred during COVID-19: SMS need to be vigilant for these issues and mitigate the associated risks for example with harm reduction interventions. Further qualitative research is required to explore the issues identified.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
JournalSubstance Abuse: Research and Treatment
Early online date8 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s) 2022. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 License ( which permits non-commercial use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (


  • COVID-19
  • over the counter drug misuse
  • prescription drug misuse
  • questionnaires and surveys


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