More people self-medicating to ease aches and pains

Pharmacists say the trend of self-medication is driven by the ease of online self-diagnosis and availability of more non-prescription painkillers.
Pharmacists say the trend of self-medication is driven by the ease of online self-diagnosis and availability of more non-prescription painkillers.TNP FILE PHOTO

Three pharmacy chains here see rise in sales of non-prescription relief medication

More people in Singapore are skipping a visit to the doctor and buying medication on their own to treat aches and pains, with pharmacies selling more non-prescription drugs for such ailments.

Three major pharmacy chains here - Guardian, Watsons and Unity Pharmacy - told The Straits Times they have seen increased sales of common pain-relief medication, such as Panadol and Nurofen.

A spokesman for Guardian said sales of oral and topical pain-relief products have increased by about 4.6 per cent since the start of this year. At Unity Pharmacy, sales of oral painkillers so far this year have grown by double digits over the same period last year.

All three chains said sales of these drugs have gone up over three years, but did not give detailed figures.

Pharmacists say the trend is driven by the ease of online self-diagnosis and availability of more non-prescription painkillers.

"Self-medication is useful to prevent and treat simple ailments," said Ms Boon Choon Pei, senior pharmacist at the National University Hospital. "When done right, it reduces unnecessary medical consultations."

The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) has also reclassified several pain-relief medication from the prescription to non-prescription category since last year.

An HSA spokesman said this year, Acustop (flurbiprofen) Plaster was reclassified to pharmacy-only medicine, meaning it can be used only under the supervision of a pharmacist; while Kefentech (ketoprofen) Air Plaster is now on the general sale list.

  • Pain-relief help

  • Three major pharmacy chains here - Guardian, Watsons and Unity Pharmacy - have seen increased sales of pain-relief drugs over the last three years. Some product categories are:

    •Paracetamol - for headaches, backaches, joint and muscle pain, period pain and toothaches

    •Ibuprofen - for migraines, headaches, backaches, dental pain, period pain

    •Medicated plaster - for muscle and joint aches, as well as pain associated with strains, sprains, backaches, arthritis and bruises

    •Glucosamine joint cream - for joint pain, for example, at the knees or shoulders

    Felicia Choo

Last year, another two medicines - Nurofen (ibuprofen) Tablet and Nurofen Express (liquid capsule and caplets) - were also reclassified to the general sale list.

There are now nine pain-relief drugs, used to relieve muscle aches and joint pain, available without a prescription, said the spokesman.

Ms Nicole Cheong, 24, said she self-medicates only for conditions she has successfully done so in the past, such as headaches. "I self-medicate because it's more convenient...and (it's) generally cheap- er," said the fresh graduate.

But pharmacists say self-medication should not be a cure-all. "Some simple conditions, which may seem benign initially, may turn complicated despite self-medication," said Ms Boon. "Inappropriate self-medication can thus be dangerous as it can lead to delay in diagnosis and treatment."

Patients may also get their medication from more than one pharmacy, she said, and run the risk of side effects from mixing different drugs.

Dr Yeo Sow Nam, director of The Pain Specialist, a private clinic, said: "When in doubt or when the duration (of pain) exceeds two weeks and it is more severe than mild... seek a physician's advice."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2017, with the headline 'More people self-medicating to ease aches and pains'. Print Edition | Subscribe