Jesse CatlinJesse Catlin

Millions of people could be risking their health by inappropriately mixing different kinds of over-the-counter (OTC) medications, according to a new study co-authored by a Sacramento State professor.

Assistant Professor of Marketing Jesse Catlin led the study, “Dangerous Double Dosing: How Naive Beliefs Can Contribute to Unintentional Overdose with Over-the-Counter Drugs,” which will be published this month in the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing (

The project was an interdisciplinary study with two co-authors: UC Irvine Marketing Professor Cornelia "Connie" Pechmann, and UCLA Professor of Medicine Eric P. Brass. It was prompted by a growing concern in the industry and among regulators that people were overdosing on ingredients common in several OTC medications.

“We started thinking about the reasons why that would happen,” Catlin says. “So the project looked at how consumers make decisions – in this case, trying to evaluate two medications for use at the same time.”

While there are many such ingredients, an example would be acetaminophen, which is found in multisymptom cold medications and painkillers. A person taking both medications at the same time could be getting an unsafe dose of acetaminophen.

“It turns out the use of more than one medication at a time is pretty common,” Catlin says.

The researchers conducted five studies to find out how much consumers were aware of the common ingredients, and whether they deemed them unsafe.

Some tests involving a group of college nursing and medical students, as well as another group of undergraduates, revealed that when presented with common OTC brands, the nursing and medical students were much more likely to note the common ingredient among the brands and to realize the potential risk.

In fact, one of the concerns is the lack of awareness among consumers that the double dosages pose a problem. “There’s this naïve belief that over-the-counter drugs are risk-free,” Catlin says. “Just because something is available over the counter doesn’t mean you can take it any way you want.”

The research team believes the best way to educate consumers about OTC safety is through a multi-pronged approach – warning labels on the packages, pamphlets. and other types of educational collateral at the point of purchase, and various forms of advertising.

Catlin has been on the Sacramento State faculty since August 2014. He got his bachelor's and master's degrees at the University and teaches Principles of Marketing and Buyer Behavior.

The study already is getting considerable attention and has been reported in a number of publications and online sites, including Men’s Health and Glamour.

While a study of this kind might be considered more the province of medical professionals, Catlin says a marketing viewpoint was very important. Marketing is not just about selling products, he says. It’s also an important part of giving consumers the information they need to make educated decisions. “When you’re looking at package labeling and decision-making, that’s marketing,” he says.

For more information on the study, visit the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing website or contact Catlin at (916) 278-7149 or For media assistance, call Sacramento State’s Public Affairs office at (916) 278-6156. – Craig Koscho


In the media:

"Consumers may be 'naive' in mixing cold/flu medications," The Sacramento Bee

"Study: Consumers doubling dosage of over-the-counter drugs," Capital Public Radio