The authors of a letter in the BMJ call for large scale research to investigate the extent of dependence on over the counter (OTC) drugs, in particular, those containing codeine. They cite 3 recent cases of addiction to Nurofen Plus (ibuprofen and codeine phosphate), whereby the patients began using the drug as recommended but their use of it increased as dependence developed. The authors note that although codeine phosphate is available on prescription only, it can still be bought OTC in combination with other analgesics.
Speaking to BBC news, one of the authors (a GP) said that she did not think the drugs were unsafe, or that they should be banned. She said, “Thousands and thousands of people take these drugs and don't have any problems. It's a very small minority who do. But our anxiety is that it's a problem which is not being picked up by the public or doctors, and that we're just seeing the tip of the iceberg."
Br Med J 2007; 334: 917-8 (link to extract);
BBC News report