Excess consumption of common pain relievers poses significant health risks to Australians

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 www.nps.org.au/be-medicinewise-week.


  1. Cherie Studwello Cherie Studwello Australia says:

    I get a bit sick of hearing that pain relief can be obtained from physiotherapy, as if every pain sufferer can afford the necessary number of visits required to help with pain relief.  In Australia, if not insured, people are entitled to 5 physio visits.  This really is a waste of time and money.  Five visits do nothing.  So I hope obtaining painkillers is not going to be subject to obtaining a medical prescription.  Again, with the possibility of the $7 co-payment to see a GP, chronic pain sufferers look like suffering more pain.

    And I totally disagree that paracetamol doesn’t assist with pain relief.  Prior to taking 1 x 100mg Celebrex daily, I had been taking 8 paracetamol tablets a day for a few years and they were the only things that allowed me to walk.  Along with the Celebrex I now take from 2-4 paracetamol daily.

    The main aim of the pain clinic I attended, while extremely well meaning and comprehensive, seemed to be to get people off medication.  I’m afraid meditation and other mind control methods take a long time to master and to maintain.  If you can’t walk or sleep, who cares if you’re life span is shortened.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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