Small packs of pain relievers recommended

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Only small pain reliever packaging

For a long time, doctors and health experts have been criticizing the massive side effects of painkillers. Especially with an overdose, serious side effects can occur. To curb the excessive consumption of pain relievers, over-the-counter medicines such as paracetamol or aspirin should only be sold in small packages by pharmacies. At least that's what the experts at the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) recommend. Critics of the draft say that this is of little use. Finally, patients can simply go to the nearest pharmacy and purchase another pack. Instead, they advocate a general prescription requirement.

Pain patients in Germany consume painkillers millions of times without a doctor's prescription. When headaches or back pain occur, many people take a pill to relieve the pain. In advertising, the pharmaceutical industry conveys to consumers that the drug "quickly switches off the pain" and that the health problem is solved.

Only small packs
According to the latest studies, around 3.8 million Germans regularly take non-prescription pain relievers for all kinds of complaints. Many people are unaware of the dangers, which is why high doses are not uncommon. Even small amounts of the active ingredients can lead to serious damage to the liver and quite a few people have already died from the pain medication. The Committee of Experts of the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices recommends that, in view of the downright inflationary use of painkillers, only small medication packaging should be allowed for sale in the future. Accordingly, agents such as paracetamol, aspirin, diclofenac, ibuprofen or naproxen should only be sold in small sizes in pharmacies without a medical certificate. The idea behind it: The packs should only last for pain therapies of up to four days. The same period of time is assessed by medical practitioners with a relative risk. The most commonly used active ingredient, acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), is also said to be affected.

According to the institute, around 3,300 patients have to be treated in an emergency clinic every year due to overdoses or improper consumption. Most of those affected had used the pain reliever for a long period without a doctor's prescription.

Severe side effects from pain relievers
The drug expert Professor Dr. Kay Brune from the University of Erlangen goes one step further. He recently stated that paracetamol, a pain reliever, should not even be given to patients by prescription, even though the drug has been on the World Health Organization's list of essential medicines since the 1970s. After a dosage of 10 grams of active ingredient a day, irreversible damage to the liver cells can follow. There could even be an acute failure of the liver. This particularly affects people who suffer from alcohol addiction or low excretion of the active ingredient. Then just a few grams are enough to cause liver damage. In the UK alone, around 30,000 people are hospitalized each year due to drug poisoning. Around 150 people would succumb to poisoning there every year, according to the expert.

In this context, the naturopath Tobias Meise reports that "naturopathy offers numerous pain treatments without side effects that have already been clinically confirmed in their effectiveness". However, very few people resort to alternative treatments. "A pill is taken quickly," says Meise. For example, willow bark contains an analgesic agent that is very similar to ASA.

General obligation to prescribe required
The Poison Information Center in Erfurt also warns against the use of painkillers. Therefore, a "general prescription requirement for pain medication should be introduced," as a spokesman recently said. The center reports daily requests for overdoses by patients. It is hoped that an obligation to prescribe could contain the problem. Numerous medical professionals are therefore calling for further steps. A mere restriction of the pack size is not enough, according to many experts. The Federal Ministry of Health confirmed the proposals of the Federal Institute in an inquiry. Now the ministry wants to "check to what extent these can be implemented". The Ministry of Health wanted to make a decision on measures promptly. (sb)

Read on:
Painkillers only in small packs
Dangerous pain reliever aspirin & paracetamol
Pain relievers can be fatal when ingested
Painkillers as the cause of pain?
Over-the-counter medicines are by no means safe

Image: Gerd Altmann /

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