Drug packaging sucks us in

Yesterday was certainly a busy day: my first appearance on the fast paced Channel Ten show The Project, culminating in making the ever stoic Carrie Bickmore blush.  So what caused all the fuss?

There are 7452 different pain tablets out there: big boxes, little boxes, fast, slow, and targeted.  Is your money actually better spent on these fancy options?

The main drugs in question are the trusty old paracetamol and ibuprofen.  Both these drugs have been around for yonks, and now off patent they are produced by many different companies.  You would recognise them as Panadol, Chemists Own, Herron, or Nurofen to name but a few.  But thats not where the confusion for the consumer ends – theres rapid acting, long acting, and site specific options (eg back or head ache).

So what’s this all about, does it bloody matter?

Drug quality

Australia has very tight regulations on the quality of drugs provided to the public.  If a drug is approved by the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration), then we can be very happy it meets the appropriate standards and is a safe form of the drug we are buying.

Paracetamol is paracetamol – whether it is an expensive or cheap version.

Take home message – if you’re on a budget a cheap version is a safe option.

Speed of action

These drugs are all absorbed quickly into the body, within about 20 minutes.  Sure, there are different formulations that MAY be absorbed faster, but they don’t necessarily provide faster pain relief.  Some individuals do report a distinct difference with some products (a couple of studies even back it up for ibuprofen), but it may just be their perception (ie the good old placebo effect).  For the consumer, these options are re-packaged and marketed heavily, with higher prices to match.

There is one exception.  Paracetamol comes in a slow release form (eg Panadol Osteo).  By releasing slowly it allows for more consistent blood levels, and if taken regularly a three-times-a-day dose regime can be easier to remember.  Improved compliance can lead to better pain control.

Take home message – If you’re one of the people who desperately needs that headache cured three minutes faster, or who truly believes there’s a difference, then fill your boots! But you’ll pay for it!

Site of action

This one’s a cracker!  There is no way that drug knows you’ve got a sore ankle and selectively seeks it out.  These drugs enter the blood stream and are spread evenly through the body, with their main analgesic effect occurring in the brain.

Take home message – There’s no such thing as targeted pain relief.  Don’t waste your money! (I sense a theme here…)

Which one is better? Paracetamol vs Ibuprofen

Paracetamol and ibuprofen are DIFFERENT DRUGS, they work in different ways.  Ibuprofen has anti-inflammatory actions that paracetamol does not have, so it’s more effective for injuries or when swelling also exists. They are both effective pain tablets for mild to moderate pain, but ibuprofen is associated with more side effects, namely gastrointestinal upset, gastric ulcers, stroke, heart attacks, and death.  BUT, these risks are low, occur with long term use or as you get older, and definitely when these conditions already exist.  Consult your doctor if you need to use them any longer than a week.

Take home message – Horses-for-courses: some people find one works better than another.

I still haven’t really explained why Carrie blushed have I. Oh well!