Ministers are considering making some over-the-counter flu remedies prescription-only following growing concerns that decongestants in them are being used in the illegal manufacture of a highly addictive Class A drug.
The news comes just weeks after Which? revealed police were increasingly anxious that pseudoephedrine and ephedrine – used in products such as Lemsip – could be extracted to make methylamphetamine or ‘crystal meth’.
Health Minister Caroline Flint has now warned of ‘very serious’ consequences if methylamphetamine – known as crystal meth or ‘ice’ – secured a hold in the UK.
And she added that ‘most’ of the conditions needed for it to do so were already in place.
Class A drug
Methylamphetamine is a highly-addictive stimulant which affects the central nervous system and can cause serious physical and psychological harm.
When smoked in its crystalline form it produces effects similar to, but longer-lasting than, ‘crack cocaine’.
Evidence suggests chronic use can lead to psychosis, including paranoia and violent behaviour.
Ms Flint explained in a Commons written answer last night: ‘Although the prevalence of misuse of methylamphetamine is believed to be currently low in the UK, the Association of Chief Police Officers are receiving increasing levels of intelligence about the prevalence of methylamphetamine.
‘If methylamphetamine did secure a hold in the UK, the consequences would undoubtedly be very serious.
‘The international experience shows that misuse can spread rapidly when certain conditions prevail and the advice of UK enforcement authorities is that most of these conditions now prevail in the UK.’
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is now consulting on behalf of ministers on plans to restrict the pack size of medicines and making pseudoephedrine and ephedrine prescription-only.
Ms Flint said ACPO and the Serious Organised Crime Agency advised that the availability of methylamphetamine was ‘increasing’ – as shown by a rise in illicit laboratories manufacturing the drug in the UK.
‘The police have identified in specific cases that multiple packs of particular pharmacy pseudoephedrine-containing products had been purchased and used in the illicit manufacture of methylamphetamine.
‘They have also identified that, in part, these packs were obtained from numerous pharmacies to obtain adequate quantities for manufacturing.’
The Commission on Human Medicines had subsequently recommended that changing the legal status of both substances and restricting pack size was ‘necessary to protect public health in the UK’.
The MHRA started a full public consultation last month.