Doctors call for probe into painkiller addictionThey want research into the problem

04 May 2007

 

Box of codeine painkillers

Codeine painkillers

Doctors have called for large-scale research into the extent of the nation's addiction to over-the-counter drugs such as painkillers Solpadeine and Nurofen Plus.

Writing in the British Medical Journal this week, doctors Chris Ford and Beth Good raise concerns about the ‘often forgotten’ affliction.

They said that in the past three months, they had seen three patients with addictions to Nurofen Plus, made up of Ibuprofen and Codeine Phosphate.

Codeine Phosphate is now only available on prescription but is freely available in painkillers combined with aspirin, paracetamol, or ibuprofen.

Common causes

The letter said that websites such as www.codeinefree.me.uk showed addicts at first used painkillers, medically known as analgesics, for common causes such as period pains and back ache.

It added that postings on the over-count website suggest the most common addiction is to Solpadeine, made up of paracetamol and codeine, and that more than 4,000 people registered there are sufferers.

But a spokesman for Reckitt Benckiser, which manufactures Nurofen products, said it ‘closely monitors’ cases of misuse of Nurofen Plus and reports of adverse events are low.

He said that the combination of ibuprofen and codeine in the product made it more effective in treating ‘moderate to severe pain on a short-term basis’.

Pharmacist supervision

He pointed out that Nurofen Plus can be dispensed only under the strict supervision of a pharmacist and patients are advised on the label to consult the pharmacist or doctor if they plan to take it for more than three days.

Global Medical Director Dr Phil Berry said: ‘It is important to note that over-the-counter products containing combinations of codeine with either ibuprofen or paracetamol have been used responsibly by millions of people throughout the world for many years as a treatment for strong pain.

‘There is a considerable body of scientific evidence illustrating their safety as long as they are used correctly for short-term relief, according to the pack instructions.’

And GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which makes Solpadeine, said it took any reports of misuse of over-the-counter medicine seriously.

Drug dependency

GSK said in a statement: ‘Hundreds of thousands of people benefit from safe and effective use of Solpadeine every year. There are clear instructions for use on our labels, and if these are followed there is no evidence that the product will cause dependency.’

‘In 2006 GSK along with other over-the-counter medicine manufacturers voluntarily agreed to put strengthened warnings about the possible risk of addiction or medication overuse headaches due to inappropriate use on packs of medicines which contain codeine and dihydrocodeine. The industry also voluntarily agreed to a maximum pack size of 32 tablets for all over-the-counter medicines containing codeine and dihydrocodeine.'

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