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Introduction

It’s pretty difficult to avoid the pharmaceutical giants when buying painkillers, but ethical pain remedy alternatives are out there. One option is to choose generic analgesics rather than the attractively packaged brand names, which often contain the same active ingredient at a much higher price. Many of the companies are still involved in animal testing, although the number has decreased on previous years; proof that a combination of public pressure and positive legislation can really make a difference.

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Brands and generics

The painkiller market is estimated to be worth over £500 million, up from about £300 million a decade ago. There are three main types of painkilling drug, based upon the active ingredients paracetamol (acetaminophen in the US), aspirin and ibuprofen, all of which are available over the counter. Aspirin and ibuprofen have an antiinflammatory effect, as well as acting on the pain and fever reduced by paracetamol.

Like nearly every other ‘consumer product’, there is an abundance of different pain remedy brands available, with a choice of between 30 and 50 different analgesics in the shops. Formulations may contain either aspirin, paracetamol, ibuprofen or a combination of these, and may also include codeine and other ingredients, such as caffeine.

There are more brands available than there are formulations, many being identical but for the name. Branded painkillers are a good source of income for the pharmaceutical companies, as simply by branding a well-established drug – such as aspirin – they can sell it at an inflated price, sometimes as much as six times the price of a generic, unbranded version.

Only drugs for which the patent has expired are available as generics and may be produced by any company. For example, since January 1998 it has been possible to purchase ibuprofen, whereas before it was only available as a brand such as Nurofen.

Painkillers come in a range of formats, including capsules, tablets, caplets and soluble tablets. Vegetarians might want to avoid capsules as they often contain gelatine.

Other issues

Most of the companies included in the research were known to be involved in animal testing. Although companies are obliged in most countries to test pharmaceutical products on animals, some are involved in testing that is not for medical use. Companies producing generics may be less likely to be involved in animal testing as they simply produce drugs that were developed by others. Concerns have been raised over a class of painkilling drugs called non-steroidal anti-inflammatories after a trial linked them, when taken at prolonged high doses, to an increased risk of heart attack. One drug, Vioxx, has been taken off the market, and the study’s authors have called for further research to be carried out.

Recently, over-reliance on painkillers has been revealed as a cause of some persistent headaches. Discovery of the ‘medication overuse headache’ has led to drugs companies being criticised for marketing their brands as quick fixes, when milder pain might be better left alone.

Burma (Myanmar)

In October 2002 Superdrug was bought by a subsidiary of Hutchison Whampoa, a multinational conglomerate based in Hong Kong. Another subsidiary of the company, Hutchison Port Holdings, has since 1997 managed and developed a major Burmese port facility. The company’s continued presence in the country serves to support its brutal regime.

Ethical alternatives

Dealing with stress is usually preferable to having to deal with the symptoms such as pain. Regular exercise and relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation and massage can be good stress-busters. There is also a range of alternative natural remedies for people who prefer not to use conventional medications such as aromatherapy, homeopathy and herbal remedies. One company offering alternative remedies is Natural Hero which has launched a range of products based on premium botanical formulations to aid sports recovery.

It has been suggested that migraines may be triggered by certain foods and drink. The most common triggers are thought to be red wine, chocolate, cheese and citrus fruit. Avoiding these may limit the chance of an attack.

Ethical Comparison – Pain Remedies Rankings Detailed Table


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Buy our detailed Ethical Research Reports. See the findings behind companies’ ethical ratings, as featured in The Good Shopping Guide. Several different product sectors available covering hundreds of consumer brands.

We have created ethical comparison rankings for the following brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): Lloyds Pharmacy, Veganin, Codis, Disprin, Nurofen, Superdrug, Aspirin, Feminax, Boots, Anadin, Hedex, Panadol, Solpadeine

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