Pharmacists warn of danger of mixing alcohol and painkillers

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Britons are popping painkillers with alcohol to ward off colds and avoid hangovers, which could prove fatal, a pharmaceutical group is warning.

One in six people mixed over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen and paracetamol with whisky to fight off cold and flu symptoms, according to The Co-operative Pharmacy which surveyed 2,000 people.

One in 20 people also took painkillers straight after a heavy drinking session, wrongly believing it would prevent a hangover.

The pills are generally taken in secret, as one in six people admitted they would not tell a health professional how many they take, and one in five would not tell even their friends or family.

Ignoring recommended dosages could lead to liver damage and prove fatal but one in 10 people questioned said they would take painkillers every day of the week or for longer.

One in four people said they took them to cope with stress and more than one in 20 popped a pill because it “made them feel better”.

Janice Perkins, superintendent pharmacist at The Co-operative Pharmacy, said: “People should always read the patient information leaflet that comes with their medicine, and if they have any questions, ask a pharmacist for advice.

“Taking too much paracetamol is particularly dangerous because it can cause liver damage, which may not be obvious and an overdose of paracetamol can be fatal.

“Many cold and flu medicines contain an analgesic already such as paracetamol so we would urge that people check the amount and type of ingredients that are included in medicines to prevent them accidentally taking too much or mixing dangerous combinations. Under no circumstances should people mix painkillers with alcohol.”

Around one in eight said they took paracetamol with a flu remedy already containing an analgesic while one in 20 mixed painkillers without knowing which active ingredients they contained.

The use of prescription painkillers has also risen, as the NHS spent £553m on analgesics and anti-inflammatories in the last year, up from £308m in 2007.

The number of prescriptions jumped from 49m to 78m – a rise of almost 60 per cent, according to a Freedom of Information request to the NHS. Codeine prescriptions were up 42 per cent in the last five years, jumping from 2.4m to 3.5m.