Codeine cough syrup set to be banned from pharmacies over opioid abuse fears

Codeine linctus is recommended to ease the symptoms of a dry cough in adults and children over the age of 12. Credit: Pexels

Cough syrup containing codeine is set to be banned from pharmacies over fears of opioid addiction as people mix it with lemonade, health officials have announced.

The cough syrup codeine linctus will now only be available to patients with a prescription due to concerns surrounding abuse and addiction.

The medicine, which was previously available to buy in pharmacies, has been reclassified by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

It is recommended to ease the symptoms of a dry cough in adults and children over the age of 12 with no breathing difficulties, but experts have found an uptick in reports that the opioid is being used as a recreational drug.

The decision to make it prescription-only was made following an MHRA consultation with experts and healthcare professionals.

The MHRA also heard that pressure was being put on pharmacists to sell codeine linctus to addicts.

Dr Alison Cave, chief safety officer at MHRA, said: “Patient safety is our top priority.

“Codeine linctus is an effective medicine for long term dry cough, but as it is an opioid, its misuse and abuse can have major health consequences.”

Figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), and cited by the MHRA, revealed deaths involving codeine more than doubled in a decade, jumping from 88 in 2011 to 200 in 2021.

The MHRA has also received three case reports describing addiction specifically with codeine linctus.

The syrup will now be prescription only. Credit: PA

Dr Cave added: “Codeine addiction can be a gradual process. If you have been taking it for a long time and want to stop, you can talk to your healthcare provider and reduce the amount you take slowly.

“If you feel that you are addicted or have concerns for someone who has been using codeine linctus for too long, you can seek advice on the NHS website. Support groups and self-help groups are also available such as Talk to FRANK.”

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has welcomed the decision to reclassify the medicine.

President Professor Claire Anderson said: “This decision not only addresses concerns about the misuse and addictive potential of codeine linctus but also underscores the importance of prioritising patient well-being.

“Many community pharmacists already no longer stock codeine linctus due to concerns about addiction and abuse.

“Those that do provide it often experience aggression from patients if they refuse a sale because in their clinical judgement it’s not appropriate to supply the medicine.”

Prof Anderson said there are “many alternative non-codeine-based products available to treat a dry cough”.

“As the most accessible of healthcare professionals, community pharmacists and their teams will continue to provide expert advice on managing dry cough and guide people towards suitable treatments.”

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