A new Panadol campaign urging New Zealanders to "rethink care" has experts concerned the common pain reliever is being marketed alongside messaging about mental health and wellness.
Influencer Simone Anderson is being used to sell the campaign's message - that "life's pain points aren't the same as they used to be" and that the well-known brand of paracetamol is "moving beyond the bathroom cabinet towards a more holistic approach to care".
The makers of Panadol, GlaxoSmithKline, have defended the campaign, stressed that paracetamol is not a mental health solution, and said their aim was to help consumers to "take a holistic approach to pain management that means they are less likely to want over-the-counter pain relief".
Citing a study funded by the makers of Panadol, Anderson captioned an image of herself sitting on a yoga mat with: "When it comes to our daily stress management routine, only 8% of New Zealanders practice mindfulness/meditation, only 4% practice yoga at least once a day [sic].
"Looking after our mental health should be at the top of our priority list but most of the time it's not, we put everyone else before ourselves which means we are often not putting our best foot forward in other aspects of our lives."
Anderson, who clearly labelled the post as sponsored content, then directs followers to Panadol's Rethink Care website, before stating that Panadol should only be used for the temporary relief of pain and including information on its safe use.
The Herald approached Anderson's agent for comment on this story and was referred to Panadol's makers, GlaxoSmithKline.
Some online called the sponsored content into question; one critic suggesting it was "more than just misleading" despite the information included on the safe use of the medicine.
Shaun Robinson, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand urged caution about wellness being equated to medication use, saying "it plays into the old and incorrect view that health and wellbeing requires medical intervention".
"Medication does have a role in managing some mental health conditions but pharmaceutical companies should also be delivering a balanced message that includes tips and information about lifestyle and habits of mind that can also improve mental health.
"Whether or not a celebrity endorses a product ultimately comes down to authenticity and balance. Consumers are savvy enough to see through cynical attempts to sell pills."
Stressing that some of the mental health advice available on social media was good, Robinson also warned that "there are also examples of misguided and unhelpful advice".
He urged Kiwis to look to trusted sources such as the Mental Health Foundation, the Getting Through Together campaign, consumer groups such as Changing Minds or health professionals for advice in order to be sure that what is on their social channels is reputable.
An Auckland pharmacist said that they didn't agree with the use of influencers to promote medication, stressing that consumers often didn't read warnings.
"People think it's a panacea, they have people taking two tablets four times a day, that's the limit. They've got a headache, so they take it for that. And a sore foot, so they double themselves up.
"Anything that involves taking Panadol when you don't need it is very dangerous, it really stuffs your liver."
Responding to the medical information included by Anderson in her post, the pharmacist said: "Who reads the warnings? I think it's really bad. Yoga and all that, that's fine, but adding Panadol? Unless you've got pain, no.
"I don't agree with it at all, people nowadays they believe that stuff," adding that influencers had taken the place of talkback radio hosts when it came to promoting health products.
"It's lethal if you take over the stated dose and it's a horrible death. People just take it for feeling 'a bit off' and that's what worries me about that ad. It's only for pain".
A spokesperson for Panadol's makers, GlaxoSmithKline, told the Herald: "We agree with the comments from the Mental Health Foundation that health and wellbeing do not always need medical intervention, and this was the intention of the campaign.
"Rethink Care was created to encourage the use of mindfulness and meditation techniques as a method of supporting health and wellbeing in lieu of medical intervention.
"We are dedicated to reducing pain wherever we find it, so if we can help New Zealanders to reduce pain by giving them the skills they need to make mindfulness and self-care a part of their everyday routine, we believe that's just as valid a part of our mission as any other. Paracetamol is not a mental health solution."
Asked about the suitability of promoting Panadol alongside mental health messaging, the spokesperson said: "We strongly discourage inappropriate use of any medicine and would like to remind people to always read the label of paracetamol-based products carefully and use them only as required and only as directed according to the dosage guidance provided on the product label.
"The Rethink Care campaign content reiterates important lifestyle messages to help people to take a holistic approach to pain management that means they are less likely to want over-the-counter pain relief," they added.
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