/ Health, Shopping

Are targeted painkillers a waste of money?

Have you ever bought targeted painkillers for migraine, period or muscle pain? If you have, you might have bought the same product three times over…

The Australian Federal Court has ordered the manufacturers of best-selling painkiller Nurofen to remove its targeted range of painkillers from Australian shops.

The fast-acting Nurofen painkillers (ibuprofen lysine) for ailments such as period pain, migraine and tension headache contained exactly the same product, but were packaged differently.

Targeted painkillers

We don’t have those exact products in the UK, but our own investigations have found similar goings on. You might think that Nurofen Migraine Pain and Nurofen Tension Headache caplets would target your migraine or tension headaches respectively, but you’d be wrong. Ibuprofen can’t target pain in specific body parts.

Nurofen Migraine Pain and Nurofen Tension Headache are exactly the same as each other. They’re also identical to Nurofen Express caplets (available until recently), which can be as much as 2p cheaper per caplet.

Nurofen defends the sale of targeted painkillers, saying that they can help consumers choose the right one.

Generic painkillers

Shopping around can also pay dividends, as well as careful scrutiny of the packaging. Most leading pharmacies and supermarkets also sell generic versions of fast-acting ibuprofen, at as little as a third of the cost per tablet of Nurofen. They’re not identical to the Nurofen tablets, but they do contain the same active ingredients (342mg ibuprofen lysine).

We found 14 products that are all identical to each other, ranging from 8p a tablet at Wilko to 20p per tablet at Boots and Superdrug. They are variously sold as ‘migraine relief’, ‘period pain relief’, ‘express pain relief’ and ‘rapid pain relief, but are actually made at the same production site (labs) to exactly the same formulation.

If you examine the fine print, you’ll find all these products carry the same marketing product licence number. This means that they’re the same, but the licence allows them to be sold under different names.

So you can ignore targeted marketing if you’re clear you’re taking the right ingredient and dose. For example, a man taking Feminax Express – marketed for period pain – will simply be getting 342mg of ibuprofen lysine!

I’ll leave you with one interesting nugget though – there’s a big placebo effect when it comes to medicines. The higher the cost of the painkiller you take and the nicer the packaging, the better the product works on people who take it, even when we know we’re taking a placebo.

Do you agree that we don’t need to buy targeted painkillers? Do you always buy generic and cheap painkillers?

Useful links

The health products you don’t need


I have always bought the cheap generics. And I am very pleased the Australian ACCC has acted in this robust way. Confusing consumers is not generally useful to consumers so one wonders why apparently no one in the UK has taken it up. Are other EU countries equally keen for confused customers.? Perhaps a quick ring around to the other EU consumer bodies would be interesting : )

BTW I accept the placebo affect though I know that many here have argued vociferously against it. And trying to get people to accept the anti-placebo effect is an even bigger stretch.


Yet another example of big business ripping us off. Trust non of them


I don’t buy many painkillers but always go for generic ibuprofen. I always check for a PL (product licence) number and buy a brand that I have heard of. I don’t know if any of the painkillers on sale are counterfeit, but having learned that there are companies that substitute oregano for cheaper herbs, I begin to wonder what I am buying.

Until Which? has a regular TV programme I don’t think there is much chance of putting Nurofen out of business.


” painkillers on sale are counterfeit, but having learned that there are companies that substitute oregano for cheaper herbs, I begin to wonder what I am buying.”

I am not sure of the business nous of those criminals substituting oregano for cheaper herbs – perhaps its a Robin Hood thing. : )

” Until Which? has a regular TV programme I don’t think there is much chance of putting Nurofen out of business.” wavechange

Yikes don’t go putting ideas into their heads. I was watching Test.de appearing on a Stern/RLT programme where they were discussing the like of the Thermomix and the all-dancing Kenwood at around 1200Euro plus inferior machines. They were showing some of the tests and the final marks. If I understood German it would be even more useful.

Which? owns no testing facilities so it rather weakens the connection. I think there is also the problem that Which? is becoming more and more diffused and with commercial operations competing against advertisers commercial mainstream would be unlikely. For the same reasons the BBC is out. Launching an own Channel on Freeview or something simply not enough content – well apart from running the 1300? You Tube clips.


What I have in mind is something aimed at a more serious audience, like BBC2 documentaries, rather than Watchdog which is intended to appeal to the masses. You make a good point about the commercial involvement of Which? and BBC TV, but Which? campaigns do get publicised BBC TV.


I’d not like to see Which? getting into tv. The pressure of a good story would be too great for what should be an independent, balanced objective and fair-minded organisation. Coming up with regular “good” stories that would keep an audience would be beyond them without a large extra staff Goodness knows what it would all cost.

I’d like Which? to do its existing job better. It does not campaign in a neutral way in many cases, and it should. Maybe that is because it does not research in sufficient depth, or maybe it thinks it has to bias the campaign to gain public support.

I’d like to see in-depth testing, even if that means reducing the number of products. I’d like to see real help for consumers pursuing their rights. I’d like to see lobbying for more durable products, less throw-away stuff, longer guarantees, sensible paid-for warranties. This is where Which? used to be – or so it seemed. But what would tv do? By all means contribute to Watchdog when it has something worthwhile to say, but stay away from the tabloid sensationalist headline approach.


dieseltaylor says:
Which? owns no testing facilities …
You can’t be serious.

Then what are all those Execs getting HUGE pay packets for ”doing” with MY Dosh?.
Does anyone remember what the difference was between being a :
Member of the AA
and a
Member of the RAC
? ?
Please, mr managing editor, this IS relevant to this discussion, just stay that e-shredding machine.


If the placebo effect is as strong as the intro suggests, it might not matter if you are buying chalk tablets 🙂 We pay for all the advertising that surrounds branded goods. When did you last see ibuprofen advertised? (just a guess!). Why should I fund the huge salaries of advertising agencies’ owners and employees?