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The truth about medicines

Updated on February 2, 2013

What's in your tablets ?.

Well, actually, not so much 'whats in them', but more like 'is Express better than regular'.

Here in the UK ( and I imagine elsewhere in the world), your local chemist will stock a large range of over-the-counter pain-relief medication. This may range from shops own brand through to 'super-fast-acting' variants of regular tablets. Are there any real advantages gained by spending on the faster-acting brands instead of the cheaper own-brand equivalent ?.

Well, the answer in short, is 'No'. They are in fact one and the same.

Let me explain. In the UK each drug is assigned a Pharmaceutical License (PL for short). This licenses the production of that particular drug made to that particular specification without any variation. So what this means in the real world is that if a painkiller (for example) has a PL assigned number 'PL123987', then it does not matter what is printed on the box as then contents will be exactly the same. Any alteration to the formula (no matter how small) will require re-certification & the allocation of a new PL specifically for the new product.

When you consider how much it costs to develop a medicine to the point of sale, it is no wonder that they try to cover every niche market they can, from plain painkillers to 'targeted pain killers'. Sometimes this can get them some adverse publicity.

In 2010 Nurofen received a Shonky Award from CHOICE, the Australian independent consumer watchdog. The award was given for taking painkillers with the same ingredients and marketing them for specific parts of the body at varying prices *(source = WikiPedia).

The BBC TV consumer program 'Watchdog' ran a report on how the same meds are sold under different brand names & what to look for.

Is this a risk ?.

With so many variants of the same thing, there is a real danger of overdosing on the active ingredients.

For instance, if you have a headache & a bad knee, then you might be tempted to take a headache tablet & a painkiller for muscular aches & pains. So you does-up on the maximum number of each, and bingo!, you have just taken twice the safe dosage. Unknowingly do this over a whole day & you could risk liver damage, kidney damage or something even worse.

It is therefore important when buying/using medicines to check the PL number. Not only can you save a fortune by switching to shops own brands, but also by knowing what you have in your medicine chest you can avoid over-dosing by accident.

I would suggest that it would be a good idea to use a fine marker pen to put the PL number on the front of the packs in your possession & even sort by PL number as well.


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