Paracetamol sales may soon be prescription only

woman about to take paracetamol tablet

Millions of Australians could be affected by a proposal to limit paracetamol sales.

It’s often our first port of call for pain relief, readily available at many retail outlets and most people wouldn’t think twice about not locking it up at home. But a government report recommends curtailing retail sales of paracetamol and transferring some products to prescription-only.

The push is prompted by a report commissioned by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) in response to the incidence of suicide or suicide attempts using paracetamol.

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The report proposes reducing pack sizes, reducing buying limits to one or two packs, making modified release paracetamol available only through prescription, and restricting sales to those aged 18 or over.

Paracetamol is mostly sold in Australia under the Panadol or Panamax labels.

The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) says the health industry, including doctors and GPs, broadly support the potential changes. But people who suffer from chronic pain are apprehensive.

Pain Australia (PA) chief executive Giulia Jones told the SMH the changes would unfairly affect chronic pain sufferers.

“There are 3.4 million Australians who live with chronic pain, and many of them use paracetamol every day without a script because going to the GP costs money,” she says.

In its submission to the TGA study, PA said it did not support further restrictions on paracetamol sales. Modified release paracetamol products were made pharmacy-only in 2020.

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“This policy places the same requirements on accessing paracetamol as alcohol or tobacco which are clearly more harmful in general to society,” says the PA submission.

Modified release (MR) paracetamol is used to treat chronic pain, especially in the elderly. Immediate release (IR) paracetamol is available at supermarkets and other retail outlets.

Codeine products such as Nurofen Plus and Panadeine were made prescription-only in 2018 due to concerns about addiction.

The suggestion to impose buying limits and reduce pack sizes was prompted by poisoning attempts.

The report found that while impulsive and planned overdoses occur at similar rates, impulsive overdoses often use paracetamol already in the home.

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It was also claimed that while larger packs were popular with consumers, they were more frequently used in overdose cases.

The TGA’s other recommendations included improving public education about the potential harm of paracetamol, maintaining and expanding follow-up care after self-harm and increasing awareness about storing medicines safely and reducing any stockpiles.

The TGA report states that survival rates from a paracetamol overdose are excellent, but only where medical treatment is sought within two to six hours of the incident. If treatment is delayed, there is a risk of serious liver injury, and sometimes death.

Treatment of overdose is also more challenging following ingestion of MR paracetamol than IR paracetamol.

According to TGA data, paracetamol poisonings lead to about 50 deaths a year in Australia, and about five times that number in self-poisonings.

Paracetamol poisoning is the most common cause of acute liver failure in most of the Organisation for Economic Co-operations and Development (OECD) countries.

The TGA will meet next week to consider its decision.

Do you use paracetamol? Which brands? How would restrictions affect you? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

Written by Jan Fisher

Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.

3 Comments

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  1. This is getting beyond ridiculous. Australia is becoming a real nanny state. It was one thing making codeine products prescription-only, which is bad enough, but they’re working towards making all pain killers prescription-only. It will be ibuprofen next.

    It costs me $95 to see my doctor because he doesn’t bulk-bill. That pack of paracetamol will become very expensive when you add the doctor’s appointment on top. I already can’t afford to see him. My doctor won’t even prescribe codeine-based medications anymore. He tells me to take paracetamol (which has been ineffective for my chronic pain). So what happens when that’s prescription-only? Will he just say “grin and bear it”.

    My wife’s doctor has stopped bulk-billing, and it takes 2 weeks to get an appointment with him. If she needs paracetamol in a hurry for pain she will have to wait 2 weeks! That’s just ludicrous.

    50 deaths a year. Compare that to the number of deaths from car accidents, alcohol and smoking-related illnesses. You can’t protect everyone from themselves. They’ll always find a way. Nothing is foolproof. To stop those 50 people from doing something stupid each year, millions of people will be disadvantaged and suffer. Why does the minority always affect what happens to the majority?

    • Totally agree Steve Australia is becoming a Nanny country. Of course they aren’t taking into consideration the many thousands of people that are told by doctors to take paracetamol for pain relief. It’s just mind boggling that the majority are not catered for, but the minority that will find another way to hurt themselves.

  2. It was good when it was available both over-the-counter [OTC] and script because on scripts you would get 2 boxes of 96 for the price of one box OTC – about $5 at that time!
    If people can’t get paracetamol to overdose on, they will soon find something else!!!
    My life mandate:
    Personal choices; personal actions; personal consequences; personal responsibility!
    No blame game!

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