Proposed Paracetamol Changes a Fine Balance

Proposed Paracetamol Changes a Fine Balance

HEAD PAIN: South Wangaratta Medical Centre GP pharmacist Deborah Hawthorne suggests products changes such as more detailed labelling and warning notices on paracetamol rather than proposed restriction on the sale of the popular medication.

CONCERNS over the misuse of paracetamol has led to proposed restrictions on the sales of the popular medication, which some say may have varying effects on the community.

An independent expert report commissioned by national medicines regulator Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) found a concerning increase in the misuse of paracetamol, especially in adolescents and young adults, which causes up to 50 deaths per year.

The TGA is considering whether to put restrictions on how paracetamol is accessed because of its use in self-harm, which some pain advocates have warned will disadvantage millions of Australians who suffer from chronic pain.

Federal MP for Indi, Helen Haines, said the findings of the report in to the risks of intentional self-harm related to paracetamol were disturbing.

“The local and international evidence on this issue shows increasing rates of intentional self-poisoning with paracetamol in the last decade in Australia, with the greatest proportion of cases in adolescents and young adults,” she said.

“Restricting the number of packets of paracetamol that can be bought at one time is unlikely to have a negative effect on those who genuinely need pain relief, but could have a significant impact on reducing harm to vulnerable people.

“Vulnerable young people who may be struggling with their mental health need our assistance and protection.

“Carefully considering and discussing measures such as these would be a step in the right direction.”

GP pharmacist at South Wangaratta Medical Centre, Deborah Hawthorne, said paracetamol has a high safety profile when taken as directed, unlike other analgesia which more commonly cause side effects such as reflux, asthma flare-ups and bleeding.

“Paracetamol is the most widely used analgesic in Australia,” she said.

“Unfortunately, when paracetamol is taken in excessive amounts, it is more likely to cause permanent injury and death when com-pared to similar overdose frequencies from different analgesic-anti-inflammatory agents.”

Ms Hawthorne said while the benefits of restricting sales on paracetamol may promote those at risk from overdose to have more poten- tial interactions with health care teams, the detrimental effects for those that use par- acetamol regularly will be far reaching.

“Those in pain may reach for other less safe (in some disease states) medications such as anti-inflammatories; and may also force more people in pain into our al- ready overstretched emergency departments,” she said.

“I believe that rather than placing restrictions on the product itself, we should start with product changes such as labelling, warning notices, and more education for the users.

“We also need to look at the bigger, more systemic is- sue of why adolescents and young adults are overdosing on paracetamol.

“Large, targeted investment into mental health is required immediately, with a focus on improved uptake and access to counsellors and psychologists.”

Copyright 2021 Northeast General Practice Services Pty Ltd trading as South Wangaratta Medical Centre.