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Crackdown on sale of codeine

By Claire Harrison

Tighter controls are to be placed on the painkiller codeine amid fears of patients becoming addicted.

Leading Northern Ireland pharmacists urged the public not to be concerned about the crackdown on the widely-used adult pain-relief drug after it was issued by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

The agency, which ensures that medicines are safe for public use, took action on pharmacy sales of the popular painkiller products after concerns were raised about the dangers of patients becoming addicted or taking it for too long.

Codeine, the crucial ingredient in extra-strength painkillers, is a member of the opiate family of drugs – which includes morphine and heroin.

Opiates have long been used as painkillers, and codeine is an effective pain receptor inhibitor, enhancing the action of painkillers such as ibrobrufen.

It is also commonly used in some cough mixtures. Like all opiates, codeine induces a feeling of calm and well-being — but if taken in big enough doses, for some people it can be addictive, with significant side effects if they try to stop.

Today’s crackdown came after a warning from the Commission on Human Medicines which is responsible for advising the Government on medicine products.

The new package of measures announced by MHRA this morning includes a limit on the amount of codeine that can be bought in one go and a health warning that the medicine can lead to addiction should not be taken for more than three days.

The new restrictions include:

A ban on large packs of more than 32 effervescent codeine tablets being sold in the pharmacy (but they will be available on prescription and packs containing less than 32 tablets will still be available).

Prominent warnings on the label and patient information leaflets of medicines containing codeine, warning about the risk of addiction, and the importance of not taking these medicines for longer than three days.

New guidance on medicine products containing codeine, recommending their use for treating moderate pain not relieved by simple painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen.

New controls on advertising to ensure the warning about the use of codeine-containing products are clearly presented.

The Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland today urged anyone with concerns about the use of codeine to speak to their chemist.

Portadown community pharmacist Raymond Anderson, who is president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland, also stressed that there is no immediate recall of codeine medicines.

“Pharmacists are best placed to give advice on the safe use of codeine medicines and I encourage members of the public to always speak to their local pharmacist where possible when seeking over the counter pain relief,” he said.

“I also want to reassure the public that there is no immediate recall of codeine medicines. These changes are precautionary.”

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