December 9, 2022

Covid-19: The inconsiderate use of paracetamol could lead to poisoning, warns the pharmacist

KUALA LUMPUR: The alleged shortage of a leading brand of over-the-counter paracetamol in the market has raised fears that the public may resort to self-medication to alleviate the side effects of vaccinations and booster doses as well as the symptoms of Covid- 19 infections.

Experts consider buying paracetamol over-the-counter without consulting a doctor or pharmacist a worrying trend because an overdose of the drug could lead to poisoning.

Doctors and pharmacists interviewed by Bernama said the trend seemed to be “getting out of control”, likely due to the spike in new Covid-19 cases, the bulk of which include mild infections that cause symptoms such as fever and body aches that can be relieved by taking paracetamol.

Several pharmacists also said many people stock up on paracetamol in preparation for their Covid-19 booster shot which can cause side effects such as fever, headaches and joint pain.

Paracetamol is commonly used to relieve aches and pain and reduce fever.

Malaysian Pharmacists Society president Amrahi Buang said patients should have some knowledge of any medicine they are taking, even if it is just paracetamol.

“There is nothing wrong with buying drugs for self-medication, but you have to have knowledge about it. In the case of paracetamol, for example, you have to know the appropriate dose and frequency of administration, as well as the strength and side effects of the drug.

“But how many people know about these things? Before you buy, first read the directions printed on the drug packaging…that’s why we encourage the public to buy (their drugs) from pharmacies because pharmacists ( on duty there) can assess their symptoms and advise them on dosage accordingly,” he told Bernama.

Amrahi said whether to take paracetamol before or after vaccination would depend on an individual’s health status, while the dosage would depend on weight, age and other medications they are taking as well as his general state of health.

Moreover, he added, there are different types of paracetamol drugs on the market that perform different functions, some of which are not suitable for pregnant women or people with high blood pressure.

He stated that although paracetamol is, in general, safe for consumption, however, it cannot be taken indiscriminately because if taken in excess or without consulting a specialist, it can lead to unwanted side effects, including liver damage.

Amrahi also expressed concern that consumers are turning to online vendors to buy their favorite brand of paracetamol when stores and pharmacies buy them out of stock.

“We are concerned that some irresponsible people may take advantage of the situation to sell fake paracetamol tablets to consumers online, which may put their health at risk. It is better to buy paracetamol from pharmacies because they have the tools to test whether the paracetamol drug is genuine or otherwise,” he added.

Explaining why stocks of paracetamol are currently hard to come by, Amrahi said it stems from the attitude of consumers who seem to prefer taking a certain brand of paracetamol medicine to lessen the side effects of their Covid-19 vaccination or their booster injection.

“In fact, various other brands of paracetamol drugs are also available in the market…they are also safe and able to relieve the side effects of vaccination. All you have to do is share your symptoms with the pharmacist who will then recommend the right medication for you,” he said.

Public health expert and epidemiologist from Universiti Malaya, Professor Noran Naqiah Hairi, said there are alternative drugs, other than paracetamol, to treat symptoms such as fever and body aches.

“People receiving their vaccine or booster can seek advice from on-call health staff at the vaccination center on appropriate medications to take, apart from paracetamol,” she said.

It has been reported that there is a shortage of a leading paracetamol brand for retail across the country.

Pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Malaysia, which manufactures Panadol, said in a statement to Bernama that there has been an increase in demand for Panadol since the implementation of the national Covid-19 vaccination program on February 24 last year.

GSK said the company is currently ramping up production of Panadol to meet market demand.

“Supply is currently limited in some stores, but we are allocating stock accordingly to minimize inconvenience to consumers as much as possible.

“We urge Malaysians to buy responsibly for their immediate needs to ensure there is a supply for everyone,” he added.

Pharmaniaga Bhd’s managing director, Datuk Zulkarnain Md Eusope, meanwhile said his company’s paracetamol product, Actimol, has no shortages in the market.

“So far, we have not experienced any disruption to our supply of Actimol,” he said. – Bernama