OVER-the-counter painkillers containing codeine are addictive after just three days and should carry visible health warnings, Britain’s drug watchdog has warned.
From next year in Britain, painkillers such as Solpadeine Plus and Nurofen Plus will carry prominent warnings on the label stating the dangers of addiction following growing concern about misuse of the drugs.
A spokesperson for the Irish Medicines Board (IMB) said no such measures will be introduced here. The regulatory body said there is an “appropriate level” of restricted access to the painkillers.
“Codeine-containing products which are available for sale without a prescription are only authorised for short-term use,” the IMB said. “There are explicit warnings regarding the potential risk of addiction on the information leaflet that is supplied with all low dose codeine-containing medicines available in pharmacies without prescription. There is advice on not exceeding the stated dose and warning that the medicine should only be used for short-term use unless under the advice of a doctor.”
Last year, Irish consumers spent €21 million on Solpadeine alone, raising concerns among the medical profession the product was being used as a replacement for illegal narcotics.
Taking medicines which contain codeine for longer than instructed or misusing them can lead to physical and psychological dependence and result in withdrawal symptoms. Long term abuse can result in liver dysfunction, gastrointestinal disorders, gallstones, depression, headaches and chronic constipation.
Clinical director of the Rutland Centre Austin Prior said there was not enough public awareness of how seriously addictive codeine is.
“Addiction like this can happen accidently. The person might start off taking the pills for a hangover, maybe, or for back pain. They are taking one every four hours, then start taking an extra one or two and it goes from there. The problem occurs when they try to stop,” he said.
Mr Prior warned that coming off codeine was “as serious” as detoxing from heroin.
He said the Rutland Centre sees a “steady stream” of people who are addicted to over-the-counter drugs.
Community pharmacist Kathy Maher called for a public awareness campaign as the misuse of painkillers containing codeine was a growing problem.
“Official British figures say about 32,000 people have become dependent on the drugs. I would say that is a very minor tip of the iceberg,” she said.
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