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Drug being 'overprescribed'

14th February 2013

An international study has suggested that a painkiller that increases the risk of heart attack and stroke may be being overprescribed.

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Prescribing practices were examined in 15 countries, including England, and researchers highlighted that diclofenac was a common choice over other painkillers despite its higher risk of side effects.

It comes as there is an ongoing Europe-wide review of diclofenac’s safety.

However, the research team, which published its findings in the journal PLoS Medicine, stressed that the absolute risk of complications with diclofenac – often used to treat arthritis - is small and patients prescribed this drug by their doctors should stay on it.

The drug rofecoxib (Vioxx), which falls in the same non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug family (NSAIDs) as diclofenac, was voluntarily taken off the market by its manufacturer in 2004 amid concerns over associated heart risks.

Justin Mason, a professor of vascular rheumatology at Imperial College London, said he felt there was over-prescription of diclofenac.

“There are some particular cases when it is a good option - but there are other painkillers that may be considered safer,” he said.

“We need to understand these types of drugs on an individual basis rather than tarnish them all with the same brush.”

He suggested there was an argument that diclofenac should be withdrawn from being available over the counter.

Diclofenac is not usually recommended for people who have existing heart disease and the British Heart Foundation said that anyone taking these painkillers should be made aware of both their risks and benefits in treating debilitating pain.

 

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