Headlines this week suggest Portuguese health chiefs are finally cracking down on Nolotil – the popular painkiller linked to numerous deaths and amputations, principally of British and Irish holidaymakers.
The development comes as health chiefs in Spain have recommended the restriction of the drug’s prescription to tourists.
But the small print in the stories infers that Portugal’s “increased vigilance” is only an expression.
The drug is still being widely used, and in fact the component that has caused concern – metamizole – can be found in other painkillers available for prescription, namely Dolocalma and Metamizol Cinfa.
Spain’s medical authority started looking into the possible side-effects of metamizole following the deaths of at least 10 Britons, all of whom had been prescribed Nolotil (click here).
The bizarre aspect of this case is that Spanish people appear to show no bad reactions to the drug.
An exposé in the Sunday Times quoted Spanish medical and legal translator Cristina Garcia del Campo, 53, warning: “British people must not take this drug. Some people are okay with it but the risk is too high”.
The risk appears to centre on metamizole’s ability to trigger agranulocytosis – an acute condition which wipes out white blood cells.
As one Brit who “nearly died” after taking Nolotil told the ST: “I was told the white blood cells in my body had completely gone and a priest came to the hospital to read me the last rights”.
But the risk appears to vary according to genetic groups – northern Europeans being the highest at potential risk.
Nolotil is already ‘banned’ in UK, Sweden and the United States – though officially no entity has come out categorically to denounce it.
Spanish health chiefs say simply that it is not advised for prescription for tourists, while the company that produces it has said: “Greater risk to populations with specific genetic characteristics cannot be proved or disproved”.
Thus the ‘increased vigilance’ here should maybe also apply to patients. Anyone being prescribed a painkiller should read the inside information leaflet carefully.
El País warns that in Spain Nolotil is still sold over the counter by many pharmacies when it should be released by prescription only.
As Cristina Garcia del Campo told the Sunday Times in August, the ‘devastating’ side effects suffered by patients she has been researching involved “some of them” having “parts of the body amputated”.
Some of these survived, others died, she told the paper.