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Vigilance urged for reading medicine packaging

Greater consumer vigilance urged for reading medicine packaging in Supermarkets

>From next week, New Zealand consumers will be able to buy ibuprofen-based products such as Nurofen(r) and Panafen IB(r) from supermarkets and on general sale around the country.

The availability of these products means consumers will now have even more choice of pain relief available from their supermarkets, but more choice may carry new risks for the many consumers who don't think to read the packaging of these new analgesic products carefully.

Ibuprofen-based products used to only be available from a pharmacy. Now that they are available in grocery stores where the advice of a health professional such as a GP or pharmacist is not to hand, consumers run the risk of making uninformed decisions unless they read the labels carefully.

GlaxoSmithKline New Zealand Medical Director Dr Ian Griffiths says the Ministry of Health's decision to allow ibuprofen-based products into supermarkets means consumers need to be extra vigilant about selecting pain relief that is suitable for them, and this means taking time to read package labels carefully.

"It is important that each person selects the pain relief medication that is right for them. Just because a product is available in the supermarket doesn't mean that it is suitable for everyone, or will treat every kind of pain. If a consumer buys a pain reliever that is not suitable, it may not treat the pain as hoped, or worse, it might cause unwanted side- effects.

"To be certain of appropriate pain relief, consumers, especially those on prescription medications, should consult their healthcare professional before self-selecting a different product from supermarket shelves for the first time and they should always read the packaging of medicines very carefully to check personal suitability," said Dr Griffiths.

Recent research presented by international toxicologist, Professor Alison Jones at the 25th Annual Scientific Meeting of the Australian Pain Society in March, shows that ibuprofen may not be suitable for as many as one in five people. Just over 23% of the 12,000 Australian's surveyed had an accompanying condition such as aspirin-sensitive asthma, gastric ulcer, pregnancy, heart condition or kidney disorder which could make ibuprofen an unsuitable choice of pain reliever.

Products such as Nurofen and Panafen IB list these precautions on the product packaging, but research conducted in 2002 in association with the University of Otago National School of Pharmacy shows many people didn't read or understand labels on current medicine packs in supermarkets.

Otago University toxicology senior lecturer Nerida Smith says "not all pain relievers are the same or safe for everyone to take. Consumers need to consider their selection habits before they buy a pain reliever. They should ask their pharmacist or doctor if the pain reliever they want to take will be right for them, and they must read the information on the pack."

In the next few weeks, GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare, manufacturers of Panadol(r) and Panafen IB, will be rolling out updated consumer education information in supermarkets around the country to help customers understand which pain reliever is suitable for them. Of course consumers can also continue to access this information from their pharmacy.

In 2003 GlaxoSmithKline introduced a new standard of so-called "performance based labeling" on products such as Panadol and Panafen IB. The ground breaking research behind these labeling changes has been used as a case study for best-practice labeling by bodies such as the World Self Medication Industry, and the World Health Organisation. The instructions on the new packaging more accurately reflect a consumer's decision making and usage of a product, for example 'Use Panadol for' or 'Do not use Panadol for' enables a consumer to decide if the product is suitable for them, and 'How to use' replaces the vaguer heading of 'Caution'. Research shows that consumers find the new labelling helps them both find and use information up to 40% more easily than the older labels.

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