News 22 February 2024

Codeine cough syrup sales banned in UK as addiction rises

22 February 2024

In a significant move to address concerns about rising addiction to codeine linctus, cough syrups containing the opioid will no longer be available over the counter in UK pharmacies.

The UK medicines’ regulator has announced the reclassification of several brands, making them prescription-only medicines following a thorough assessment by doctors.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) emphasised the potential health consequences of the misuse and abuse of codeine linctus, citing its classification as an opioid.

Reports indicate that the oral solution has been misused as an ingredient in a recreational drink, colloquially referred to as “purple drank.”

In 2023, there were approximately 250 serious or fatal adverse reactions to medicines containing codeine, a number consistent with the previous year.

Pharmacists, acknowledging the addictive nature of codeine, urged patients to explore alternative treatments for dry coughs. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society recommended various options, including consuming liquids, warm drinks with honey and lemon, as well as consulting pharmacists for suitable cough medicines and sweets.

The MHRA cautioned against purchasing codeine linctus from unregistered websites due to potential dangers in the product ingredients.

Codeine addiction was described as a gradual process by Dr. Alison Cave, MHRA chief safety officer, who encouraged individuals seeking to stop its use to consult healthcare providers for a gradual reduction plan.

The decision to reclassify codeine linctus as a prescription-only medicine received support from healthcare professionals, with Professor Claire Anderson, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, saying, “This not only addresses concerns about the misuse and addictive potential of codeine linctus, but also underscores the importance of prioritising patient wellbeing.

“Community pharmacists and their teams will continue to provide expert advice on managing dry coughs, and guide people towards suitable treatments.”

Brands affected by the reclassification include Codeine Linctus BP, Bells Healthcare Codeine Linctus, Care Codeine Oral Solution, Galcodine Linctus and Pulmo Bailly.

[Image created via MidJourney]