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We must scrap paracetamol multi-buy deals once and for all

Voluntary guidance around the sale of painkillers clearly doesn't go far enough to protect public safety, says Claire Anderson

To many, paracetamol is an everyday drug used to help reduce minor pain. But pharmacists are all-too aware of its potential dangers if someone takes an accidental or deliberate overdose.

So in an effort to protect the public, we at the RPS are urging the government to ban retailers from offering multi-buy paracetamol deals.

Read more: Stop retailers from offering multi-buy paracetamol deals, RPS urges

We believe that these promotions, sometimes used by discount retailers, violate voluntary sales guidelines set out by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and pose a significant risk to the wellbeing of individuals.

Pharmacists are the gatekeepers of medication safety and public health. Our commitment to the responsible use of medicines goes hand in hand with ensuring the appropriate sale of pain relief medicines. While the MHRA's guidance is voluntary, it reflects a shared commitment to the wellbeing of the communities we serve. 

Multi-buy offers on paracetamol can tempt individuals to purchase more packs than necessary, leading to excess medication stored at home. This surplus raises obvious risks and concerns that we cannot afford to ignore.

Read more: Manufacturing issues behind ‘safety critical’ ADHD drug shortage, DH warns

The existing voluntary guidelines set out by the MHRA clearly state that retailers should not sell more than two packs of pain relief medicines in one transaction, and that they should avoid offers encouraging the sale of multiple packs.

We believe that self-regulation is clearly falling short in safeguarding public health. Some retailers continue to ignore the MHRA’s guidelines and promote multi-buy deals despite the potential risks. When the well-being of individuals is at stake, relying solely on voluntary codes of conduct is insufficient.

Read more: Fake Ozempic jabs injected into UK supply chain, medicines watchdog warns

Appropriate legislation is crucial to protecting the lives of individuals and ensuring that vulnerable groups are better protected from the consequences of accidental or intentional drug overdose.

We urge the government and all healthcare professionals to uphold the highest standards of patient care and medication safety.

The government has acknowledged the importance of monitoring compliance with guidelines on the sales of pain relief medicines like paracetamol, through its recently-published suicide prevention strategy for England.

In its strategy, recommendations say that the MHRA will assess whether legislation and guidance on the sales of pain relief medicines are safe and proportionate. It also says the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) will work with the MHRA to explore regulatory changes regarding the quantities of tablet sales. 

Pharmacists and their teams are the primary source of information and guidance on over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. The opportunity to offer personalised advice that ensures people use these medicines safely and effectively is central to our role and why we are one of the most trusted professions.

We believe that regulatory change is needed sooner rather than later to protect public health.

Professor Claire Anderson is the president of The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS)

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