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Over-the-counter triptans for migraine : what are the implications?

In 2006, the triptans sumatriptan 50mg and naratriptan 2.5mg were approved as over-the-counter (OTC) drugs in pharmacies in the UK and Germany, respectively. Both drugs have been used in a large number of patients with migraine and are considered to have good safety profiles. The implications of OTC triptan availability for clinical practice are that more migraine patients will use a triptan and will tend to medicate early when their headache is still mild, which should be beneficial. The problem with OTC access to triptans is medication overuse; therefore, patients should be warned of this and advised to use a triptan on fewer than 10 days per month. Pharmacists should be educated regarding migraine types and symptoms and on contraindications to triptans, so they are then able to discern the patients who should receive triptans and, as importantly, those who should not. The annual cost of migraine is euro27 billion in Europe, $US1.4 billion in the UK and $US16.6 billion in the US. By far the greatest opportunity for cost-savings comes from the potential to reduce costs associated with lost productivity from migraine. OTC availability of triptans will inevitably result in easier access to these medications, which, in turn, may result in improved treatment and lower migraine-related disability. There is currently a lack of empirical evidence that treating migraine effectively does in fact recover lost productivity; well designed studies are required to show this. The availability of triptans OTC is a logical development for the better management of a common, benign, self-limiting but nonetheless burdensome disorder that is currently grossly undertreated. We welcome this development, but recognise that advice at the point of sale is crucial for effective and safe use of these drugs.[1]


  1. Over-the-counter triptans for migraine : what are the implications? Tfelt-Hansen, P., Steiner, T.J. CNS. Drugs (2007) [Pubmed]
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