Abuse of Codeine Cough Syrup Led to Prohibition on its Sales in the UK


Chemists in the UK will cease selling cough syrups containing codeine linctus due to concerns over addiction. The UK medicines’ regulator has reclassified several brands, making them prescription-only following a doctor’s assessment. Codeine linctus misuse, being an opioid, poses significant health risks. Pharmacists emphasize alternative remedies for dry coughs, such as staying hydrated, consuming warm drinks with honey and lemon, and consulting them for suitable cough medicines and sweets. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) cautions against purchasing codeine linctus from unregistered websites due to potential dangers from undisclosed ingredients.

Over the past five years, there has been a concerning increase in reports of drug abuse and dependency on codeine-based medications. The MHRA has highlighted misuse of the oral solution, often used in recreational drinks referred to as ‘purple drank’. Data from the MHRA’s website reveals approximately 250 serious or fatal adverse reactions to codeine-containing medicines in both 2022 and 2023. In response to these concerns, doctors, experts, and patients were consulted to reclassify the medicine, proposing that it should only be available by prescription for those specifically requiring it as a cough remedy. Pharmacists shared concerns about feeling pressured to supply the medicine to individuals struggling with addiction. Dr. Alison Cave, MHRA’s chief safety officer, emphasized that codeine addiction can develop gradually and advised seeking healthcare guidance to taper off usage slowly when discontinuing the medication.

The NHS website and support groups like Talk to Frank offer guidance on addiction. Dr. Cave emphasized that patient safety is the MHRA’s foremost concern, leading to the decision to reclassify codeine linctus. Professor Claire Anderson, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, commended the move, emphasizing its focus on patient well-being and addressing concerns regarding misuse and addiction potential. Community pharmacists will continue to offer expert advice on managing dry coughs and recommend appropriate treatments.

The following brands will now require a prescription in the UK:

– Codeine Linctus BP

– Bells Healthcare Codeine Linctus 15mg/5ml Oral Solution

– Care Codeine 15mg/5ml Oral Solution Sugar Free

– Galcodine Linctus

– Pulmo Bailly

Codeine, classified as an opiate, functions within the central nervous system and brain to alleviate pain by blocking pain signals throughout the body. Additionally, it mitigates the anxiety and stress induced by pain. Codeine is typically utilized when other pain-relieving medications have proven ineffective. It’s crucial to note that dependency on codeine can develop, hence, if its usage extends beyond a few weeks, your physician will provide guidance on tapering off the medication. It’s generally not recommended to administer codeine to children under the age of 12 unless specifically advised by a healthcare professional.

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