Editor-At-Large: The cure for stress is not pills but saying 'No'

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The Independent Online

Belatedly, the Government has announced that, along with alcohol and cigarettes, another highly popular and legal way of dealing with modern life's little difficulties is to be sold with a prominent health warning. All painkillers that contain codeine will be available from next year only in packs of 32, and the packaging will prominently state "Can cause addiction. For three days' use only".

Given the high level of painkiller abuse, this will be about as useful as sticking a bit of balsa wood in a leaking dam. It's estimated that around 32,000 people are addicted to painkillers in the UK, many regularly taking up to 70 a day. Changing packaging to remove the words "suitable for coughs and colds" won't make a blind bit of difference.

It has taken a disgracefully long time for the Government to understand just how comprehensively we've morphed into a nation of pill-poppers. Instead, it has been obsessed with refining the drug classification system, endlessly debating how recreational drugs such as ecstasy and GHB should be ranked, although all the evidence is that members of the public have little understanding of how that system works.

Instead, it should have been focusing on the way that big drug companies have heavily marketed painkillers containing the highly addictive codeine. Go into any high street chemist and there are shelves of them. The normal, unadulterated paracetamol or ibuprofen is tucked away, hard to find, less prominently displayed. The reason: these simple painkillers are cheap, so retailers make far less profit. In their place painkillers containing codeine are promoted as "new and improved" and "scientifically effective".

Taking painkillers isn't like shooting up heroin or taking crack – it's something we all do. You can get addicted within a week without realising it, and pretty soon you're taking them on a daily basis. The comedian Mel Smith ended up in A&E with stomach ulcers after he took 50 Nurofen Plus a day to deal with crippling pain from gout.

I know just how easy it is to get addicted: over the years doctors have routinely prescribed me strong painkillers containing codeine when I've had knee or hip pain. Then the unused packets sat in the bathroom cupboard, waiting to be popped the next time I got a bad headache or backache. I would take Nurofen Plus before I went out for a drink, to tell my body there was no point in getting a headache. For 10 years of my life, there wasn't a day I didn't use painkillers as a way of dealing with the tension associated with stress.

Instead of going for a walk, boxing, having a bath or screaming my head off, I popped a pill. Then I read that codeine stops pain initially, but when you take it regularly it gives you a special codeine headache. Isn't that just too sick for words?

About two years ago, I threw away every single painkiller I had accumulated over the years. I decided to start from zero. Now I buy paracetamol one small packet at a time. If I have a pain, I take one and wait at least three hours before I take another.

One of the reasons why painkiller misuse has become widespread is because taking them is almost a badge of honour. In our society, where high achievement is linked to inordinately long hours at work, and there's a constant need to be online and in communication with all and sundry 24/7 to prove just how valuable we are to our employers, we've come to accept that aches and pains are a routine part of our working day. But why should they be?

We have to relearn saying the word "No" – as in "Not available". We have to learn to slow down and chill out, and then 90 per cent of the pains we take these pills for would vanish overnight. Doctors should be banned from prescribing more than one week's worth of any drug that contains codeine. Frankly, I'd like to see all painkillers such as Nurofen Plus, Paracodol and Solpadeine Max sold only on prescription. Forget class A drugs – codeine is the modern killer.

False front Palin isn't the first to fake her home life

Now we know what life really is like at home with supermom Sarah Palin: she doesn't cook, hardly talks to her husband of 20 years, and spends an hour in the bath every evening getting over her day at work. Sounds familiar doesn't it? I can just imagine the scene in the Palin household when pushy Mom (who publicly champions abstinence before marriage) discovered that her 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, was pregnant by a teenage high-school dropout whose own mother had been arrested on drug charges. It's almost enough to make you sympathetic for Sarah Palin.

And now, to rub salt in the wound, Bristol's former fiancé has gone snivelling to Vanity Fair magazine, claiming that Mrs Palin tried to hush up her daughter's pregnancy and wanted to adopt the baby herself. Levi Johnston also reveals that Mrs Palin didn't know how to handle a gun (since when did any politician balk at using props for publicity shots?). He whinges that she and her husband of 20 years rarely shared the same bedroom; and that after the Republicans lost the presidential election she considered chucking in politics for a more lucrative career writing a book or appearing on TV. Of course, that's exactly what Mr Johnston has just done. The public realises that the sanitised version of family life which all political families promote is just window-dressing. Only this week an "unposed" picture of Barack Obama in his office with his daughter hiding behind a sofa just happened to get released to the press at a time when his ratings were plummeting. Sorry, Levi, your revelations tell us nothing we didn't already know.

Anne's only fit for one thing

It's not just Anne Robinson's face that's undergone major refurbishment, there seems to have been some freshening up in the memory department, too. Watchdog returns to our screens this week with the iron lady of telly at the helm, and Anne is busy with promotional chats, telling one journalist that she's twice been offered a chance to make her mark in politics.

Apparently, the Tories asked her to stand as their candidate for London Mayor before they (wisely) opted for Boris. And the late Alan Clark wanted to parachute her into Parliament via a safe seat and then into the Cabinet. Leaving aside the flattery involved in both "offers" – the kind of proposal made by weedy blokes impressed by a high-profile, no-nonsense woman – it's clear that anyone who makes a fortune being a bossy bitch on telly hasn't got an iota of the patience required to deal with Transport for London and bolshie train drivers. And what Anne conspicuously lacks is a sense of humour. There's only one job she'd be perfect for – dictator.

At last... it's good to be plump

A small photo of a beautiful, naked woman showing a tiny roll of tummy fat – ie, looking normal – buried away in the back pages of the US edition of Glamour magazine has sparked a huge response from delighted readers. The model, Lizzie Miller, weighs 12 and a half stone, and says she is thought too fat to model even the plus-size ranges by most designers.

The magazine has been forced to promise there will be more pictures of Lizzie in future. If only the same could happen here. Some "on-message" fashion editors now use older models, but they are still as thin as a stick. Larger-than-life entertainers such as Beth Ditto and Dawn French are acceptable in the fashion magazines, but not the average size-14 female.

Now it seems there may be health benefits to those extra pounds. Scientists have discovered that women whose thighs measure less than 23.6ins in circumference are more likely to suffer from heart disease and die earlier than those with chunkier legs. Hurrah! I shall stop my daily sit-ups at once – they may be damaging my health.

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