The anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac, sold as Voltaren in New Zealand, has come under fire internationally for being too widely used in place of other equally effective, yet safer options.
A study in this week’s PLOS Medicine finds that the painkiller diclofenac (a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID)) is the most commonly used NSAID in 15 countries studied, including New Zealand, despite its known tendency to cause heart attacks and strokes in vulnerable patients. This risk is almost identical to that of Vioxx (rofecoxib), which was withdrawn from worldwide sales in 2004 because of cardiovascular risk.
The British and Canadian authors found that diclofenac sales or prescriptions were three times higher than that of safer alternative naproxen and say that evidence about the risks associated with diclofenac has translated poorly to clinical practice. They call for the drug to removed from essential medicines lists worldwide and marketing of the drug to stopped.
The study has been covered here in New Zealand, where low-dose diclofenac is available without prescription.