Reckitt Benckiser has landed in hot water in Australia because of its pain-specific versions of Nurofen (ibuprofen). The regulator argued that the drug firm is breaking the law, since Nurofen Back Pain, Nurofen Tension Headache, Nurofen Period Pain, and Nurofen Migraine are essentially identical.
I’m not sure things are quite that simple…
The consumer hates to feel cheated and it’s easy to do just that if you end up buying three packs of painkillers for specific pains when one would suffice.
But the manufacturer has argued that consumers often find it hard to find the right product for their problem and, in the absence of a helpful pharmacist, specific labelling like this could be really helpful.
But what about the price hike?
Many Australian retailers apparently charge twice as much for pain-specific Nurofen as the broader use alternatives.
In most areas of manufacturing, prices are set bearing in mind not only production costs but also the volume likely to sell. It stands to reason that a broad painkiller will sell more than one simply for migraine. Just printing the different packs for the four Nurofen variants will cost a lot more than running off four-times the amount of a single, multi-purpose product.
The same holds true for retailers – where each centimetre of shelf space has a value, why not set a higher price for something that, by its very nature, will not sell as much?
In the UK, there is a different argument. The Advertising Standards Authority is looking into claims that the fast-acting gel Nurofen formulation does not act more quickly than conventional formulations. However, this should be relatively easy to settle – as I understand it, the claims were based on trial evidence (presumably following the principles of good clinical practice).
At the end of the day, it really comes down to ethics.
Personally, I don’t have a problem with Nurofen labelling – any more than I do a floor cleaner that can also be used (off label) to bring a sparkle to wall tiles. But then I always go for the cheapest generic painkillers so I’m probably not the best person to judge.