France clamps down on OTC painkillers

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First came a public consultation launched by French medicines agency, ANSM, in August 2018 on how to increase consumer awareness of the risks of paracetamol misuse or overdose. Then followed the decision in July 2019 that, within 9 months, all paracetamol-based medicines must carry a prominent warning on packaging, to inform consumers about risks associated with paracetamol overdose, particularly hepatotoxicity. Paracetamol is the most commonly prescribed and used medicine in France, and the change affects more than 200 medicines.

Now, the ANSM has decided that, to reinforce the advisory role of the pharmacist and guarantee safe use of medicines containing paracetamol, ibuprofen and / or aspirin (in particular to avoid the risk of overdose), such products should be removed from the OTC self-selection list from January 2020 and kept behind the counter in pharmacies. ANSM has launched a consultation period with marketers, who have one month to comment.

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According to our estimates, the decision (if implemented) could affect around 90 SKUs on the French market. This includes the trio of leading paracetamol-based brands – Doliprane, Dafalgan and Efferalgan – as well as the top OTC ibuprofen-based (Nurofen, Advil) and aspirin-based (Aspirine Upsa) analgesics. Various OTC generics from the likes of Biogaran, Sandoz and Mylan, as well as systemic cold & flu remedies (Fervex, HumexLib) and topical analgesics, could also be affected.

The true effect that this decision could have on sales of OTC systemic analgesics remains to be seen, but it would clearly not be welcome news for marketers active in a category that remains in persistent decline, in part because of another regulatory decision (reverse-switch of codeine in July 2017). Leading brands such as Doliprane (Sanofi) and Efferalgan (formerly BMS, now Taisho) are available in both semi-ethical (reimbursed) and pure OTC versions, the latter often backed by TV ads, and it’s these latter SKUs which marketers have invested in over recent years that are most at risk.

Rapid regulatory change will be one of the themes at Nicholas Hall’s upcoming OTC.NewDirections Executive ConferenceTaking place in London on 14 November, the meeting will ultimately focus on the latest CHC Innovations and Technologies, with presentations from RB, Mundipharma, J&J and many more experts from CHC and beyond. To book your place or find out more, please contact jennifer.odonnell@NicholasHall.com without delay.

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