Codeine cough medicine could become prescription-only

The government’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has launched a consultation on reclassifying opioid-containing cough medicines as prescription-only.

Codeine linctus is used to treat a dry cough.
Codeine linctus is used to treat a dry cough.

There have been ‘multiple’ reports to the Yellow Card reporting site for the side effects of medicines about recreational use of codeine linctus for its opioid effects, the government states. 

Codeine linctus, which is used to treat dry coughs, is currently available over-the-counter in pharmacies. If reclassified, however, it would be unavailable to buy without presentation of a prescription. 

‘Codeine linctus is an effective medicine, but as it is an opioid, its misuse and abuse can have major health consequences,’ said the MHRA’s chief safety officer, Dr Alison Cave. ‘Every response received will help us to develop a broader view on whether codeine linctus should be restricted to prescription-only status. We want to hear from members of the public, health professionals and others who would be affected by this potential change so we can make a properly considered decision for the benefit of patients, carers, and healthcare professionals across the UK.’

‘We believe there is insufficient robust evidence for the benefits of codeine linctus in treating coughs safely and appropriately,’ added president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, Professor Claire Anderson. ‘We also have significant concerns about its misuse and addictive potential, as well as the risk of overdose. There are many non-codeine based products available for the treatment of dry cough. With studies showing up to 60 per cent of people are genetically predisposed to opioid dependence, the role of codeine linctus in treating what is ultimately a self-limiting condition is questionable.’

Consultation at: until 15 August

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