Paracetamol and other painkillers now behind the counter in France

If you’ve been hunting high and low for paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin in a French pharmacy without success it’s because a new law brought  in this month by the ANSM (the national agency which regulates medicines and health products in France) dictates that paracetamol, ibuprofen, aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines must now be kept behind the counter.

The law is aimed at promoting appropriate use of these pain-killing drugs. Although they are still available without a prescription, you will now have to ask the pharmacist for them. They can then offer appropriate advice on their use, warn you about exceeding the recommended dose and check that any drugs you plan to take are compatible with other medication you are taking.

The new measure tightens up France’s already strict laws over the sales of over-the-counter painkillers, which are only available at pharmacies. There is no popping down to the corner shop for emergency drugs to treat your hangover here in France. Which can be problematic if you’ve hit the red wine hard on a Saturday night and have nothing to ease the pain in the house.

There will always be a pharmacy open out of hours if you’re really desperate. The French term is pharmacie de garde. When closed, all pharmacies will have a notice posted outside to say which pharmacy is open however you can also get this information by calling 3237 (calls cost 0.35€ a minute) or by typing your postcode in to the search box on the Le Pharmacien website.

Pharmacies in France offer a wide range of services and can diagnose minor ailments and advise on many health issues. If you have a sore throat, an irritating cough or a mysterious swelling and you’re not sure it warrants a visit to the doctor, the pharmacy should be your first port of call. Often a pharmacist can tell you what is wrong and offer suitable medication without you having to burden your doctor or rush off to A&E.

You can read more about pharmacies in France here.

French vocab - At the Pharmacy

If asking for medication over the counter fills you with fear, here are some ways to ask for what you need:

Pourrais-je avoir de l’aspirine s’il vous plaît?
Could I have some aspirin please?

Pouvez-vous me donner du paracétamol s’il vous plaît?
Could I have some paracetamol please?

J’ai besoin de quelque chose pour…
I need something for…

la fièvre – a fever
la douleur musculaire – muscle ache
un mal de tête – a headache
un mal de dents – toothache

Or most simple of all:

Du Nurofen s’il vous plaît – Some Nurofen please

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