Unveiling Americans’ attitudes towards over-the-counter drugs
February 12th, 2024, Bhavika Bansal

Unveiling Americans’ attitudes towards over-the-counter drugs

With an estimated revenue of USD 40.72 billion in 2024, the OTC pharmaceuticals market in the US is projected to experience a compounded annual growth rate of 3.52% from 2024 to 2028. From the common cold to minor aches and pains, these non-prescription remedies have become indispensable allies in most American households. This exploration offers insights into the attitudes and purchase behaviors that shape Americans' interactions with over-the-counter (OTC) drugs.

Recent data from YouGov Profiles reveals that nearly half of Americans (47%) buy OTC drugs as required rather than stocking up followed by 39% who keep a stock of some such medications but buy others when necessary.

Furthermore, when it comes to choosing between generic and branded OTC drugs, more than half of our respondents (55%) say they tend to buy a mixture of both while a fifth say their choice depends on what is readily available at the time (20%).

On the other hand, only a tenth of Americans say they specifically only buy branded (11%) or generic (10%) medication.

Evidently, there is a market for both branded and generic label or store brand OTC medication among Americans. But what factors really influence their decisions to pick one brand over another?

While half of American adults say they pick one OTC drug over another because they’ve used it in the past and are aware of its efficacy (50%), an equal share also state that price is an influential differentiating factor (49%).

A third of respondents pick a particular brand of OTC medication because they recognize the brand name (33%), followed by more than a quarter who do so either due to a doctor’s recommendation or the medication’s strength (27% for both).

Advertisements on TV (4%), the internet (2%), in print (2%) or on the radio (1%) are least likely to influence an American consumer’s choice of OTC medication.

Data from YouGov Profiles further reveals that cold and flu relief medication tops the list of OTC drugs purchased by Americans over the past six months (40%) followed by internal pain relief medicines (38%), first aid supplies (38%) and allergy prevention and treatments (38%).

Sinus relief drugs and external pain relief lotions or ointments (14% and 13% respectively) round out the list of top 10 most purchased over-the-counter medication in the US in the past six months.

But where American consumers purchasing their chosen OTC medicines?

American multinational retailer Walmart is a top choice – visited by 58% of American consumers for their OTC drug purchases – followed by leading American pharmacy and health solutions providers Walgreens (38%) and CVS (37%).

With less than a tenth of respondents saying they purchase their over-the-counter medication at Publix (6%), Safeway (5%) and Mejjer (5%), these retailers bring up the rear in the list of top 10 OTC dug retailers used in the US.

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Methodology: YouGov Profiles is based on continuously collected data and rolling surveys, rather than from a single limited questionnaire. Profiles data for the US is nationally representative and weighted by age, gender, education, region, and race. Learn more about Profiles.