Over the Counter Painkillers

59 Comments 12th October 2014

Legislation (1998) limits the sale of painkillers to packs of 16 in all shops except pharmacies which may sell packs of 32 to minimise the risk of overdosing. People are not allowed by law to buy more than 32 tablets at one time and some shops display  a notice to this effect.

This is a petty and unnecessary law because anybody wishing to buy more than 32 painkillers can simply buy them in more than one shop, or can scan several packs at self-service checkouts in supermarkets. Meanwhile pharmacists are enjoying a monopoly over the sale of the larger packs of painkillers for no good reason. 

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society wiil argue that fewer people have overdosed on painkillers since this law was introduced but, even if true,there is no proof that this is due to limiting the amount of tablets people can buy at one time.

I believe this law is less a matter of public safety and more about ensuring the pharmacists' monopoly over the sale of the more lucrative, larger packs of painkillers and should be scrapped accordingly.

 

Why does this matter?

Because this law is yet another petty and unnecessary restriction of liberty.

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59 Responses to Over the Counter Painkillers

  1. Richard says:

    I can go into a supermarket, purchase 6 bottles of whiskey but I can’t purchase more than 2 packets of headache tablets. Something wrong somewhere!

    • sharon brown says:

      It may be stupid to you but it has decreased the number of deaths (accidental or intentional) by poisoning. A person with suicidal ideations will not go from shop to shop to purchase more…they use whatever means are to hand which has led to this research and eventual law being passed. (Ref: University of Oxford Centre for Suicide Research)

      • Sarah Key says:

        What an utterly stupid comment. Due to this ridiculous law i now buy 2 packs of painkillers each shopping trip, at least once a week, just in case I need them. Which means I now have my own personal stockpile in the cupboard. So,should I ever be suicidal I would no longer even have to walk out of the house in order to purchase anything. Thus making it as easy as could be to overdose if I should so wish. Guess none of the dubious geniuses who came up with this marvellous plan managed to think it through to this logical conclusion. Doh!

      • Alisha Thomson says:

        I have to disagree somewhat, I agree some suicides are impulsive and the person may just use things they have to hand at that time, but that isn’t a general rule, some suicides are planned for weeks with alot of thought gone into them, and even ones that are a bit impulsive, having to go to a few shops is nothing if your that desperate to kill yourself.
        Also it’s a stupid law, I would like to see actual evidence that proves less painkiller suicides due to this law, if a person wants to commit suicide then they will, no matter what laws to stop them buying painkillers are there.

  2. Hilary Pienaar says:

    Insane.! Yes? My husband & I just been to Sainsburys to buy paracetemol & sudafed as both have colds. The assistant would not let us buy the 3 packs of 16 because ‘you may only buy 2 in a transaction’. I offered to stand behind him and buy the third pack in another transaction but she refused, as ‘it is the law’. Seems to me a transaction does not take 2 or more people into consideration, forcing us to go out again in under 2 days to buy more tablets when we should be tucked up somewhere warm.

    • sharon brown says:

      It may be stupid to you but it has decreased the number of deaths (accidental or intentional) by poisoning. A person with suicidal ideations will not go from shop to shop to purchase more…they use whatever means are to hand which has led to this research and eventual law being passed. (Ref: University of Oxford Centre for Suicide Research)

  3. Max says:

    Yes! This law is stupid. What next, stopping me walk across bridges?

    • sharon brown says:

      It may be stupid to you but it has decreased the number of deaths (accidental or intentional) by poisoning. A person with suicidal ideations will not go from shop to shop to purchase more…they use whatever means are to hand which has led to this research and eventual law being passed. (Ref: University of Oxford Centre for Suicide Research)

  4. Brigidhj says:

    Completely stupid idea. I bought 2 packets of ibruprofen (32 tablets), paid for my shopping and then immediately at the same till bought the Lemsip I wasn’t allowed to buy before.

    You can buy as much as you want at Boots, but a pharmacist doesn’t have to sell them to you.

    • sharon brown says:

      It may be stupid to you but it has decreased the number of deaths (accidental or intentional) by poisoning. A person with suicidal ideations will not go from shop to shop to purchase more…they use whatever means are to hand which has led to this research and eventual law being passed. (Ref: University of Oxford Centre for Suicide Research)

  5. Anita Hayes says:

    Just did a little searching on the web after running into trouble at ASDA this morning, wanting to buy 2 packets of paracetamol and 2 packets of ibuprofen, since I have had three molars pulled out and am on maximum dose of both to be able to continue the things I need to do without crying my eyes out. Found an article from the mhra ) : ‘Medicines legislation states that it is illegal to sell more than 100 tablets or capsules of either paracetamol or aspirin in any one retail transaction.’ In other words: ibuprofen is not included, and even if they would, with each packet containing 16 tablet, that would bring the total to 64 tablets. As far as i am aware that is still under 100!

    • sharon brown says:

      Read the law in full – you cannot buy more than 2 packs in one transaction. While you are at it, research a little about suicide by poisoning and you will see why this has been actioned. It may be stupid to you but it has decreased the number of deaths (accidental or intentional) by poisoning. A person with suicidal ideations will not go from shop to shop to purchase more…they use whatever means are to hand which has led to this research and eventual law being passed. (Ref: University of Oxford Centre for Suicide Research)

      • Alisha Thomson says:

        Don’t try to guilt trip people! U clearly don’t agree with everybody in here and that’s fine but that doesn’t give u the right to speak to people like that.

    • Em says:

      Ibuprofen has aspirin it it therefore can only buy two packets and it is not per transaction it is per store.

  6. Michael pendry says:

    As far asi know.and I have looked into this . You can buy as much Ibrofen as you want and also purchase paracetamol at the same time. But only the 32 paracetamol. If anybody can prove me wrong I’d love to here from you.

    • Libby says:

      I work in a shop and we can not sell 32 paracetamol and a pack of ibuprofen together. It simply will not go through on the till.we get so much grief but it isnt our fault.we just do our job. People get so angry but there is nothing we can do.

      • linda says:

        Thank you Libby That happened to me at morrisons but I didnt blame the check out girl she was just doing her job.

      • Karen says:

        I had the same problem in Morrisons yesterday they would only sell me 1 of each paracetamol and ibuprofen, then went to Superdrug who allowed me to buy 2 of each at the same time. Neither had a pharmacist in. How does that work!!!!

  7. John ham says:

    If I want to stock up for winter buying cold remedy if I buy 2 packs I then can’t then buy any paracetamol on addition as cold remedy contains paracetamol

  8. A L Wiltshire says:

    Before retiring I was responsible for measuring overdoses including paracetamol. I found that teen agers particularly would take a bottle of paracetamol ON IMPULSE not realising that 30+ tablets would KILL if not washed out immediately. They would be Ok for 24 hrs then become ill and DIE. No efficient remedy available.
    They didn’t really want to commit suicide, Just upset about a row or exam etc.
    The new legislation reduced the number of deaths dramatically. Q.E.D.

    • Cindy says:

      But I’m not a teenager. If that’s a particular problem, the simple solution would have been to ID people who appear to be under 25 as per the regulations over alcohol and cigarettes.

      I’m actually more annoyed with packaging painkillers in blister packs. It’s very difficult, especially for someone older or with arthritis, to get the tablets out. This packaging has also significantly increased the cost of these relatively innocuous painkillers, and there is more waste going into landfills. This type of packaging never breaks down.

      I do, however, have the perfect solution. Take a trip to either Canada or the USA occasionally, for the scenery of course, but where you can buy such painkillers as aspirin, Tylenol and ibuprofen in convenient quantities, packed in easy-to-open bottles.

      • Anon says:

        Every time Im in US I syock up on OTC medication because they have yet to become a nanny state trying to micromanage all aspects of their citizens lives.

  9. Chris Laurence says:

    Moronic isn’t it. After Dunblane they tightened up firearms, easier to acquire now than ever before!! No shortage of people who can score large quantities of recreational drugs and not just cannabis, if they choose to-with/without silkroad!! Don’t use paracetemol on it’s own but the Mrs uses it pretty regularly, so if she wants 2 packs & I want a cold remedy that contains paracetemol can’t purchase with the weekly shop.Time to treat adults as adults me thinks.

  10. Hedley Jones says:

    I believe the statement about the law is incorrect above.

    The law limits the size of packages that can be sold. The maximum single package size is 16 for normal retailers and 32 for sales under supervision of a pharmacist. Further it limits multiple packet sales of either aspirin or paracetamol to 100 tablets per transaction.

    As I understand, any other restriction is a matter of best practice or of retailer policy, and not the law. See press release from MHRA here:

    Paracetamol is dangerous if taken in overdose, especially if not treated within a few hours. A legal limit of 100 per transaction seems more than enough, and the packet size restriction makes it less easy to take an overdose as a spur of the moment decision.

  11. Adrian says:

    Morrissons refused to sell me 2×16 para and 1×16 Ibu. I was sure the rule only applied to para but they said otherwise, saying it was illegal. Reading the above, clearly 2 packs is “recommended” but it definitely isn’t the legal limit!

    With 3 people ill in my house at the same time I needed it. Self service till for the extra pack, so what’s the point.

    Whenever I’m in the USA (not often enough) I always make a point of going to Walmart and buy one pack of para and one of ibu; each pack contains 500 tablets! And it’s about £2!

  12. Peggy says:

    Today I was refused 16 Ibuprofen and 32 Paracetamol in our Tesco store (NEATH). I could have any two boxes but not three so I took one of each. If I hadn’t been hurrying for a bus I would have gone into the shop next door where, three days earlier, I had bought 2 boxes of each with no problem.

    If I really wanted to commit suicide I have a choice of Tesco, Wilkinson’s, Savers, Superdrug, Poundland and at least 3 chemists in our small town to obtain ‘my stash’.

    By purchasing my own painkillers I am saving my doctor and his receptions their time, I am saving the Government a lot of money by not getting them on prescription and I save myself time – long term – by usually having in my home any necessary standard medicines.

    Most people now realize that they must stock up on such things just incase the whole family go down with the flu’ and no-one is physically well enough to go out at short notice for these things.

    If people are intent on killing themselves they WILL find a way. This stupid law upsets the shop assistants and inconveniences very many people who are unwell.

  13. Phil says:

    I have recently been denied purchasing 2 packs of 16 tablet paracetamol by a local store. They told me it is illegal to buy 2 packs and any other retailer that does is breaking the law. This store was a Spar store in Central Scotland. I can go into any other store, like Asda and they will say no more than 2 packs but if I use self service tills, I can buy as many as I want by doing 2 or more seperate transactions.

  14. Brenda Ghafoor says:

    I went in Poundland wanting to buy two packs of ibuprofen and a nasal spray as I had flu. I was not allowed to buy the nasal spray if I bought the ibuprofen . So stupid. I’d gone out to buy them myself as I live alone, though didn’t feel well enough to go. Needless to say I didn’t have enough to get better .

  15. Yvonne Clark says:

    Aldi refused to sell me 2 packs of paracetamol if I bought a tube of ibuprofen for topical application at the same time. That’s balmy. Did they think I read going to eat the stuff?

  16. Yvonne Clark says:

    How do pound shops get away with selling 3 for £1?

  17. Milcah says:

    I managed to buy 3 for £1 at pound land with no question, in fact my intention was to buy one before being informed about the special deal.

  18. Andrew Cooper says:

    It might be an idea to warn of the dangers of botched suicide attempts using paracetamol. People seem to think it’s a fairly certain way to die, but in reality its a good way to cause irreversible damage to organs and reduce the quality of life. Not helpful if you are already dissatisfied with your lot in life. I write as a layman rather than a clinician.

  19. Sue M says:

    I’ve just tried to buy one pack of 16 paracetamol, one pack of 16 ibuprofen, and two packs of 12 decongestants from Sainsbury’s – I was refused! The decongestants contain no painkilling ingredient whatsoever. Both cashier and supervisor insist they are correct. I know they’re wrong, but can’t find anything on the Internet to back me up. 🙁

    • Rachael says:

      Was this in the pharmacy in Sainsbury’s or in the supermarket? What decongestant was it? If it was a 12 pack continuing pseudoephedrine in a pharmacy then it is illegal to sell more than one packet as you are only allowed by law to sell 720mg in one transaction.

      http://www.chemistanddruggist.co.uk/content/restriction-sale-pseudoephedrine-and-ephedrine-products

      If it was phenylephrine (found in non-pharmacy only products) then there shouldn’t have been a problem.

      I’m a pharmacist and I think it’s silly too, what I don’t even understand though is how a 32 pack of paracetamol is classed as a pharmacy only medicine but most supermarkets allow you to buy two packets of 16, making the quantity equivalent to a pharmacy only quantity. Some pharmacists are funny about selling two packets of 32 but my thinking is well you can overdose with one pack of 32 so what’s the issue supplying 64? There should be no issue with supermarkets selling paracetamol together with ibuprofen either, I’ve never understood this.

    • Linda naisbitt says:

      I had this in sainsburys the other week I couldn’t but paracetamol and antihistamines it was one or the other which I thought was silly.
      Also another problem in sainsburys won’t let u buy calpol for child and paracetamol for yourself.

  20. Pat says:

    It is ridiculous because if the dr prescribes paracetamol you can get 2 months supply of 200 from him on repeat prescription. Doesn’t make any sense at all.

  21. Phil. says:

    Refused 3 packets of Paracetamol in Superdrug today.
    Left without buying any. Went into Poundland where they sell 3 packs for a pound. Back in the old days (a few years ago) I was able to buy a bottle of 100 Paracetamol for about £1. They did give me a quizzing. when I wanted 100 Paracetamol and 100 Ibuprofen. Explained I was married, the wife wanted one lot and I wanted the other lot, and I was just doing as I was told. They just handed them over. Its a bad idea but I can understand their concern.

  22. Barbara says:

    I have been able to purchase 2×16 paracetamol and 2×16 Ibuprofen at the same time from Poundstretchers and Lidl for many months but today was refused more than 2 packs of either in Poundstretchers. I went next door to lidl and got two of each without question as usual. Shops must get their acts together and read the actual law before imposing these rules.

  23. jenny says:

    Unpopular opinion, but when I was fifteen I attempted suicide by taking 32 paracetamol tablets because that was all I was able to buy in one transaction, before being picked up by emergency services as I was heading to a different shop to buy more. I almost died from total organ failure and spent over a week in hospital. Had I been able to buy more than 32, I would likely be dead. You can say that it’s moronic and inconvenient when shopping, but without this law, I’m not sure that I would be alive today.

    • Rachael says:

      And it would have been entirely your own doing. As you stated you were on your way to get more so the law didn’t help either way you just attempted what most people are complaining about and went to go to other places.
      It’s pathetic the amount of alcohol and unhealthy foods and not to mention cigarettes you can buy freely which can all kill you in one way or another but a family of 4 can’t be provided with simple pain relief because they might commit suicide.
      If someone wants to do it they will regardless of how many tablets they can buy in one place at a time…you could buy loads of alcohol which is a depressant and decide to throw yourself off a bridge…should we sell quarter bottles only just in case???

      • Alicia says:

        I agree Rachael, people need to stop blaming others for their own choices. “Oh I spent a week in hospital because the law didn’t stop me trying to take my own life”.
        Just nonsense and I’m so sick of this country trying to baby everyone. If people want to top themselves let them! Let’s be honest, if they’re serious there’s not a thing in the world we can do about it.
        After having major surgery I should not have to go to various different stores or pharmacies to buy painkillers for the next few weeks just because someone wanted to be irresponsible with an everyday painkiller.
        The perception of some people of what the law should do is just so off. its even more stupid when you think it takes 20+ paracetamol to kill yourself but stores will let you pick up 32 at a time. Even one pack of 16 is bad enough, you may very well have 4 at home so they’re not exactly helping anyone.
        In fact I just finished reading an article about it written by professors who tested the ability to obtain painkillers after legislation came into force and their conclusion was that the law is doing more to piss off the regular consumer than prevent suicidal people

    • David says:

      Whilst it is great that the 32 limit prevented you from taking your own life, do you not feel that even if paracetamol was taken off the shelves altogether a person wanting to commit suicide would find an alternative?

    • sharon brown says:

      I am sorry you found yourself in this situation so it is a good thing this law is in place. You may have been in a dark place and tried to take your own life but people with severe suicidal ideations would have tried with whatever means were to hand. People generally will not bother going from place to place to buy more paracetamol or go and try another method. Research has shown that 32 is not fatal and is the limit at which no long term damage is done to the body. Our research has also shown that some people who wish to poison themselves will change their mind if they are unable to obtain the required quantity as it is invariably an impulse decision. It will take more than 32 to be fatal.

  24. et says:

    It is quite reasonable to limit the number of paracetamol one can buy at one time, what is crazy is making the pack size 16 then selling 2 packs!!!!!
    There is no sense in that whatsoever!

  25. fay Foster says:

    I quite agree with jenny. The laws are there to protect vulnerable people and if even one life is saved then it is all worth it. If you are ill, a pharmacist can sell you larger quantities of painkillers at their discretion. Attempts to purchase large amounts of painkillers indicate a potentially fatal and immediate danger. far more so than cigarettes, the sale of which is much more tightly controlled.

    • David says:

      Jenny pointed out that 32 paracetamol can lead to organ failure and death. Maybe paracetamol should be pharmacist only or a maximum of 16 which would cover you for 2 days adhering to the advice which would give you enough time to see a pharmacist or GP.

      • Alicia says:

        Or maybe it shouldn’t, seeing as some people (myself included) have been in for surgery and are buying painkillers for the next week or so and in fact limiting them just costs more time

      • sharon brown says:

        32 is the limit at which the body will not suffer long term organ failure if taken as an overdose – hence the restriction. (University of Oxford Centre for Suicide Research).

        This restriction has dropped the number of fatal overdoses significantly

  26. Anonymous says:

    I too am a pharmacist. People think paracetamol is harmless because it is such a commonly used drug. Not only have you overdose issues ethically, there are other issues associated with its repeated use. The truth is no one should require more than a few days worth to treat a cold or common ailment, so I will never understand people’s attitude of requiring packs of the stuff at one visit. It’s a drug, not a sweet. Stop complaining people, the majority of us pharmacists restrict sale of drugs to protect you, not to hinder you.

    • Ani honeywell says:

      Unless of course you have spinal stenosis or other debilitating long term nerve condition, and are trying not to take narcotics on prescription. My husband has ibuprofen on repeat prescription but they are pink, and caused him dramatic anxiety. Fortunately a brilliant pharmacist at Boots switched us to their own brand in large packs, which we have to pay for but anxiety went within 48 hours. Don’t presume all just want ibuprofen for period cramps and sniffles.

    • sharon brown says:

      Hear hear! Far too many people popping ‘every day’ pills unnecessarily.

  27. Chris says:

    Does anyone actually know if you can buy 2 x packs of paracetamol and 2 x packs of Ibuprofen,
    I’ve always got mine from Tesco and Llidl and have never in years had a problem with getting 2 x packs of each at the same time, however shopped in Aldi the the other day and they only allow 2 packs total (32 tabs). Asking around people seem to think that buying 2 packs of each is ok as ibuprofen is not classed as a painkiller buy as an anti inflammatory, does any of the pharmacist know if this is right, as if its not right then some retailers have been breaking the law for years.
    Thank you

    • sharon brown says:

      Anti inflammatories are classed as pain relief they just attack the pain in a different way to NSAIDs.

  28. trueleitistnot says:

    Death by aspirin/paracetamol is stupid. But, one has to ask why that may be happening. The simple answer is the nanny state has grown poverty to the point where death by aspirin is the death that can be afforded by very poor people.

  29. trueleitistnot says:

    They limit painkillers, but not killers. Think about it for awhile. Take a stroll through London while pondering this.

  30. Rachel Adams says:

    Then why sell them in the first place then I could go get 2 packs from every shop that sells them and then still take an overdose ( I’m not suicidal) I just have a cold.
    My point being anyone who was desperate enough would ! Stupid

  31. Northernstock says:

    I couldn’t buy tonight 2×2 packs of 16 paracetamol (500mg) and ibuprofen(200mg).
    We are a family of 6 now all adults. Because there are 6 of us I try to make sure because I do all the shopping, that I always have pain relief in the medicine cupboard.
    It is amazing how fast they can go if a few of us are poorly at the same time, eg. 2tabs, 4x a day for 3 people =24 tablets in just one day and sometimes one has to take paracetamol and ibuprofen together too.
    However Sainsburys refused to sell me the 2of each of the 16 tablet boxes.
    So I went to their OWN PHARMACY INSTORE and I bought a box of 84 double strength 400mg ibuprofen and 2×32 500mg paracetamol, no questions asked.
    This restriction at tills is a complete waste of TIME even if it is supposed to help the vulnerable.
    As there is nothing stopping someone from buying a couple of packs of tablets, then getting some more and going to another till, or going through the self scans, or like me just going to the instore pharmacy, to get more and stronger.
    So what’s the point of the rule, because it doesn’t work! They could even go to the next shop.

  32. meep says:

    Having worked in the Health service for some time, I actually find it both a good idea and a bad one. As for the research certain people have referred to, the study concentrated on Paracetamol which if taken enough in overdose will totally destroy the liver as it does in long term use. To prevent the possibility of suicide by this drug the rules were brought in to a sale of 32 tablets at any one time, it worked, with that however now, what the public are finding and myself, if you want to buy both, Para/ibuprofen; Para/asprin tablets or Beecham’s powders you will, because of the two box rule, you can not?!! The Pharmacist however has the right to sell you two boxes of 32, rationale, they know you, they know your condition, they will have interviewed you. All I need to do when I am buying my supply is pop from one shop to another to get what I need, but what I find frustrating is when I want one box of NSAIDS I have to drop the other medicine to one box ???? It is the two box rule which is idiotic, but like I have said there are ways and means, as there are for those who want to commit suicide. On a Lighter note the reason I need pain medication, Degenerative osteoarthritis of the spine, hips. knees and wrists, go figure

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