Cold remedies could become prescription onlyDecongestants can be used to make class A drug

09 March 2007

 

Some common cold remedies may be made prescription-only medicines because of fears they could be used to help manufacture a dangerous and highly addictive Class A drug.

The government’s medicines watchdog, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), is currently consulting on restricting the sale of medicines containing pseudoephedrine and ephedrine.

Pseudoephedrine and ephedrine are nasal decongestants used to treat colds, flu and other similar conditions.

The majority of these products are available as over the counter medicines but there are fears the nasal decongestants could be extracted to make methylamphetamine or ‘crystal meth’.

Psychotic behaviour

It’s a highly addictive drug which when smoked in its crystalline form can produce effects similar to crack cocaine and can lead to psychotic behaviour in users.

Both the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) have expressed concerns about the misuse of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine.

It comes after the police uncovered specific cases where multiple packs of products containing pseudoephedrine were bought from pharmacies and used to make the Class A drug.

US authorities have already restricted products containing pseudoephedrine and this has contributed to a sharp decrease in the domestic production of crystal meth.

Serious consequences

The MHRA warns that the use and availability of crystal meth is thought to be increasing in the UK and that if it does secure a hold ‘the consequences would be very serious.’

It’s now consulting until 1 June on proposals to make medicines containing pseudoephedrine and ephedrine only available on prescription, as well as restricting the size of packs sold in the UK.

The Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB) is the UK trade association for manufacturers of over-the-counter medicines.

Its Executive Director Sheila Kelly said: ‘Pseudoephedrine has been used safely for treating colds and sinus problems in the UK for over 40 years. It would be a shame if millions of people can no longer get this effective treatment because criminals are using it to produce an illegal substance. 

Pack size restrictions

‘We don’t want to wait until we have problems such as those of the United States, New Zealand or Australia but we can learn from their experience. In every country they introduced pack size restrictions, took pseudoephedrine medicines off open shelves and put them behind the counter. In some cases they restricted them to pharmacy sale. The UK already has most of this system in place. Pack size restrictions have worked in other countries without making pseudoephedrine a prescription only medicine.’

Which? Principal Policy Adviser Kate Webb said: ‘We will be talking to the MHRA about these proposals, but at first sight they are puzzling. We're not certain that increasing demand for GP appointments and removing the option of treating colds and flu with pharmacy medicines is the best way to address this issue.’