Nurofen is one of the painkillers that’s risky in a triple whammy combination.
Nurofen is one of the painkillers that’s risky in a triple whammy combination.

The supermarket pain relief that could kill you

MILLIONS of Australians using common painkillers available in supermarkets could be at risk of kidney failure if they are also using two blood pressure lowering medications.

And experts are calling for the government to look into making the painkillers pharmacy only medications to better control the risk.

Painkillers including ibuprofen (like Nurofen), naproxen (like Naprosyn and Maxidol) and diclofenac (like Voltaren) can cause acute kidney injury in a phenomenon known as the "triple whammy" combination.

This happens when they are combined with blood pressure medications called ACE inhibitors and diuretics.

More than 3 million Australians use ACE inhibitors each year and 250,000 use diuretics putting a large number at risk if they also use the pain killers.

New research into drug use in 10,000 residents of 68 nursing homes in NSW has found two per cent were taking the dangerous "triple whammy" combination.

"When this rate is applied to Australia's residential aged care population of approximately 259,000 people, in the order of over 5,000 people in residential aged care may be triple whammy users," Macquarie University researcher Dr Kim Lind found.

Nurofen is one of the painkillers that’s risky in a triple whammy combination.
Nurofen is one of the painkillers that’s risky in a triple whammy combination.


The research was published in the journal of Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety.

Dr Lind is calling for electronic medication systems in aged care villages to red flag the medicine combination to protect elderly people from the risks.

The number of people at risk of the triple whammy is far greater than the study showed because patients in the general community also use the blood pressure medications and were ignorant about the dangers of combining them with anti-inflammatory drugs, Dr Lind said.

"People expect if you can buy it in a supermarket they are safe," she said.

Not only do the medications place people at risk of kidney problems they also carry gastrointestinal, heart, stroke, central nervous system and fracture risks, she said.

"Maybe it is time to move them to pharmacy only," she said.

Dr Lind says the warning labels on the painkillers in Australia were not as comprehensive as in the United States.

"Australia doesn't have all the warnings about the associated risks and it might be appropriate to update the labelling and make sure the print is large enough to read," she told News Corp.

There needed to be targeted interventions in aged care facilities to reduce the use of the pain killers and end the triple whammy medication use, she said.

Pain Australia CEO Carol Bennett said the research highlighted the need for better medication control in aged care facilities.

The organisation wants the government to look at encouraging aged care facilities to appoint full time pharmacists to manage the medications of people in the facilities.

A trial of such a scheme in a Canberra aged care village has been highly successful, and it could also help reduce worrying overprescribing of antipsychotics to dementia patients, she said.

Ms Bennett wants this model to be a key focus of the new seventh community pharmacy agreement being negotiated by the federal government.