UK Doctors Call for Addiction Warning on OTC Medicines

Physicians in the United Kingdom are urging the government to require addiction warnings on over-the-counter drugs, including painkillers and cough medicines, The Scotsman reported June 27.

“Many of us don’t realize that a lot of the medicines available over the counter have ingredients which can be highly addictive. Painkillers will contain codeine and cough mixture is known as a problem,” said Jonathan Beavers, an Edinburgh University medical student.

About 30,000 people in the United Kingdom are addicted to over-the-counter medicines.

The British Medical Association (BMA) supports the call for warning labels. David Grieve, the director of Over-Count, a charity that helps people addicted to over-the-counter medicines, also favors warning labels.

“People are entitled to know that these remedies can cause problems,” he said. Grieve dismissed suggestions that the warnings could encourage people who want to get high to abuse over-the-counter medicines.

But Vicky Wyatt, a spokeswoman for the U.K. Department of Health, said current legislation is adequate. “Products available over the counter which contain a low dose of potentially addictive substances are safe and effective when taken at the recommended dose,” she said.

Manufacturers of over-the-counter medicines are also opposed to the warnings. “It’s a tiny percentage of people who actually suffer, and they often have other problems which trained health professionals could help them with. We believe that warnings on a packet alone have little impact,” said a spokeswoman from The Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB), which represents the manufacturers of over-the-counter medicines.