The Consumer Council is highly concerned about the recent supply and pricing of pain and fever relief medication. Across 3 weeks from late December 2022 to mid-January 2023, Council staff paid over 140 visits to pharmacies, supermarkets and health and beauty stores in various districts across Hong Kong to survey the sales situation of analgesics and antipyretics containing paracetamol. As market demand has surged due to the fluctuating pandemic situation, some of the more popular brands of pain and fever relief medicine were found to be out of stock and with raised prices. As of early this week (16 January 2023), the Council had visited a total of 31 physical stores in 9 districts and 4 online stores, and observed that the stock supply of most medication containing paracetamol (i.e. medicine used for symptomatic relief of fever and pain) had generally stabilised despite a considerable price disparity.
“Paracetamol” (also known as acetaminophen) is a common medicine used for symptomatic relief of fever and pain. According to the record of the Hong Kong Department of Health, among the registered pharmaceutical products containing paracetamol, 684 products could be purchased over-the-counter without a doctor’s prescription. Therefore, there is no need for consumers to worry and panic-buy such medication.
To allow consumers to ascertain the Hong Kong registration status of pain and fever relief medicine containing paracetamol, both those available for sale or the stock at home, the Council collaborated with the Department of Health, with the support of the Hong Kong Association of the Pharmaceutical Industry (HKAPI), to launch a “Search Tool for Registered Over-the-counter Pharmaceutical Products Containing Paracetamol” which covers over 600 related products as mentioned that can be purchased without a doctor’s prescription for the public’s reference. Consumers only need to enter the product name in English or Chinese (some products only have an English name) into the search tool. If the medicine is registered in Hong Kong, the search results will display its registration number, ingredients, while some products would include reference photos. The search tool enables consumers to verify registered medicine more conveniently and purchase with peace of mind. Link for the search tool as follows:
The 684 medicine products containing paracetamol included in the search tool can be divided into the following 4 categories:
- Oral solid preparations, including tablets and capsules, etc., containing paracetamol as the single ingredient. Each tablet/capsule generally contains 500mg paracetamol while products containing 300mg or 250mg paracetamol are also available. Mainly for people over 12 years of age;
- Oral liquid preparations containing single ingredient of paracetamol, mainly for people at 12 years of age or below;
- Suppositories containing single ingredient of paracetamol for rectal administration, mainly for infants;
- Multiple ingredients preparations containing paracetamol, usually for symptomatic relief of cold and flu.
Consumers can use the Council’s search tool, either before purchase or for already purchased products, to ascertain whether a medicine has been registered in Hong Kong. For proprietary Chinese medicine (pCm) registered in Hong Kong, consumers can use the search function on the “List of applications for proprietary Chinese medicine registration” webpage of the Chinese Medicine Council of Hong Kong. The relevant information of the pCm can be found by entering the product name or registration number. Link: https://www.cmchk.org.hk/pcm/eng/#main_dis.htm
When using medicine containing paracetamol, consumers should pay heed to the following:
- Oral solid preparations, e.g. tablets or capsules, have different quantities and are generally for adults and children over 12;
- Oral liquid preparations, e.g. solutions or powder for oral solution, are generally for children 12 or below. Parents should measure the right amount using oral syringe or dosing spoon according to instructions as stated in the product package or insert;
- Overdose of paracetamol may cause serious liver injury, therefore, a normal adult should not consume more than 4,000mg of paracetamol within 24 hours (for a tablet containing 500mg paracetamol, the maximum daily intake for a normal adult is 8 tablets). Without the advice from doctors, if the medicine is used for pain relief, it should not be consumed for more than 5 days; if used for fever reduction, it should not be consumed for more than 3 days. Therefore, consumers should not stockpile a large amount of related medication;
- Children or persons with certain disease conditions should take a lower dose either in accordance with product package or insert and/or advice from healthcare professionals;
- People allergic to paracetamol ingredients should not consume related medicine. People with kidney disease, liver disease or taking anticoagulants (e.g. Warfarin) are advised to consult healthcare professionals before using medicines containing paracetamol.
From December 2022 to 20 January 2023, the Council has received a total of 20 complaints relating to pain and fever relief medicine, involving a total amount of $5,812. Over half of the complaint cases (10 cases) involved late delivery and 5 cases were related to variation or termination of contract. The Council urges the retail industry, including pharmacies, supermarkets and online stores, to shoulder their corporate social responsibility and avoid fuelling speculations in the market. Besides, consumers should rest assured that there is sufficient variety of over-the-counter medicine containing paracetamol in Hong Kong. The public can use the Council’s search tool to purchase confidently and rationally, while refraining from stockpiling medicine. Not only is expired medication a waste of money, it could also pollute the environment.