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Overuse of Pain Relievers Poses a Safety Risk

On the final day of Be Medicinewise Week 2014, NPS MedicineWise is reminding people that excess consumption of common pain relievers is a serious medicine safety issue.

A recent poll* on behalf of NPS MedicineWise suggests that many Australians have exceeded the maximum daily dose of over-the-counter painkillers, potentially posing significant risks to their health.

NPS MedicineWise clinical advisor, Dr Andrew Boyden, says that while these medicines are among the most commonly used in Australia, people need to exercise caution and use them properly.

“Pain relievers like ibuprofen and paracetamol are readily available at convenience stores, petrol stations and pharmacies, but they are still medicines which can have serious side effects if not used appropriately,” says Dr Boyden.

The survey of around 1000 Australian consumers revealed that:

  • 8.5% of respondents have exceeded the maximum daily dose of ibuprofen
  • 7.3% of respondents have exceeded the maximum daily dose of paracetamol
  • Gen-Y Australians are twice as likely as older generations to have overused ibuprofen with codeine.

Dr Boyden said the findings are concerning and the risk of overdose on pain relievers needs to be taken seriously.

“Acute overdose is a risk for those exceeding the maximum daily dose of pain relievers,” says Dr Boyden.

“Also the long term effects of excessive use can— depending on the medicine— increase your risk of kidney damage, gastrointestinal bleeding, and liver damage.”

Pain relief medicines have an important role to play when used properly, however it is important to consider the role of non-medicine treatments to manage pain, for example heat packs or physiotherapy. If you are using pain relievers it is really important to understand how to use them safely and properly, and to get advice from your health professional.

“Your health professional is the best source of information about managing your medicines safely and wisely,” says Dr Boyden. “It’s also important to understand and follow the instructions on the packaging, and you can always ring the NPS Medicines Line if you have questions about your medicines.”

As part of Be Medicinewise week NPS MedicineWise is urging people to take our online challenge and learn how to be more medicinewise. The challenge can be accessed at

For more information on prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines (herbal, ‘natural’, vitamins and minerals) from a health professional, call NPS Medicines Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) for the cost of a local call (calls from mobiles may cost more). Hours of operation are MondayFriday 9am–5pm AEST (excluding public holidays).

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Alana Lowes

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