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Addicted to the Counter: The Drugs We Can't Do Without

By Michelle Duffy     May 7, 2007 in Health
GP's around the UK, are urging patients to consider the possibilities of becoming addicted to non prescription drugs
OTC's are better known as 'over-the-counter' drugs and are the little packets of painkillers and the like we buy every week from the supermarket for our minor aches and pains, yet do we actually realise how addictive they actually are?
In the UK, the British Medical Journal has discovered the true effect of the 'off the shelf' painkiller. Doctors, Chris Ford and Beth Good are just two GP's who have seen patients recently become addicted to ordinary painkillers whose main ingredient is codeine. The painkiller that they had been taking was the UK, Nurofen Plus which has a main ingredient of codeine phosphate. On top of this, it also contains, ibuprofen. What they had all taken was excessive but over a continuous period of time. All three suffered severe gastrointestinal bleeding, which is common if the drug is taken to excess over a long time.
These patients did not, as you may suspect, take the drug without reading the instructions which came with the packet. None of the them also realised they were taking the drug in excess, although common sense must have failed somewhere as it was reported that one patients was taking up to 30 tables a day.
So, who is to blame for this addiction? Drug companies who produce these 'harmless' painkillers have quickly jumped in to defend themselves for any future attack on their possible 'negligence.' Researchers have already put their minds at rest announcing that it is public awareness of such addictions that needs to be readdressed.
So back to the ingredients of the Nurofen Plus. The very ingredient in the spot light here is codeine phosphate and as a drug on it's own, it can only be taken if prescribed by a GP, however since being added to other painkillers in small doses, it can be obtained over the counter like anything else.
GP's have said that certain information has been gathered by a website set up for patients seeking advice on over the counter medicines. At, researchers have discovered that the most common addiction found is with the fairly popular Solpadeine which is a favourite with millions in the UK for treating headaches and other such complaints. The medicine is a combination of codeine and paracetamol and was widely advertised on UK TV quite recently for it's ability to help with back pain. Yet the website can confirmed through patient queries that over 4,000 people are currently hooked to it.
Yet the BMC want to stress that the problem is fundamentally a minor one. Dr Ford told BBC News,
"Thousands and thousands of people take these drugs and don't have any problems. It's a very small minority who do. But our anxiety is that it's a problem which is not being picked up by the public or doctors, and that we're just seeing the tip of the iceberg. There are lots of websites where patients are talking about their addictions. But we have no idea how big the problem is because there has been no research to quantify it."
However, we are all aware how a vast community cane be scared into thinking that all medicines are unsafe and addictive. So the BMC want to, above all, seek to educate the population about the dangers of such drugs, BUT, also how to take such medicines wisely and effectively. Drug companies have already understood this, and as from a few years ago, are now required to limit the amount of actual pills in their packets. Shops are also not allowed to sell more than a recommended amount to a customer.
Yet still many people misuse these medicines. They are, only to pick us up from a headache or a minor pain. It is still advised that people should seek medical help if taking over the counter painkillers for more than three days. Could this then, be a result of poor GP services? Is this a warning to National Health in the UK that we feel the need to medically help ourselves because our own GP's are not welcoming enough to us?
It certainly is food for thought and next time we reach for a packet of painkillers, we should perhaps look at out own lifestyles and social surroundings as to why we have such pains in the first place.
In the meantime, we are in the hands of the drug companies. In the UK, one of the leading manufacturers is GlaxoSmithKline. They are also the company behind one of the drugs here in the report, Solpadeine. The company has already stressed that the drug misuse problem is a serious matter, but at the same time, they also realise that it may be a rare occurrence where people become addicted.
A spokesman for the company said,
"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."
It is another sign of a world in which we live where we don't have to take responsibility for ourselves. When it is easy enough to point the finger of blame to someone else, we prefer to put our own selves at risk. Common sense, frighteningly enough, appears to be a thing of the past...
More about Over- -counter, Drug use, Concern
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