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MHRA issues addiction warning on over the counter medicines

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Packs of over the counter medicines containing codeine and dihydrocodeine are to carry new warnings about the risk of addiction, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) announced today.

As part of a new package of measures designed to minimise the risk of overuse and addiction, the medicine packs and patient information leaflets will also carry clear warnings about the importance of not using the medicines for more than three days.

Revised guidance on the use of these products will state that they should only be used to treat moderate, acute pain that is not relieved by simple pain killers, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen.

Indications that they can be used to treat colds, flu, coughs and sore throats will be removed, the agency said, and packs containing more than 32 tablets will no longer be sold over the counter but will only be available on prescription.

MHRA director of vigilance and risk management of medicines, Dr June Raine, said: “The MHRA is ensuring that people have clear information on codeine containing medicines, on what they are to be used for and how to minimise the risk of addiction. These products can be addictive and we are taking action to tackle this risk.”

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Readers' comments (1)

  • I can't see this announcement being helpful to those suffering pain. In recent years we have been preaching that taking opioids for pain do not create addiction, but can cause dependence. The two are related, but the implications are different for both. A person who carries on taking a substance despite it doing harm is addicted. A person who feels awful when they stop taking codeine, but is no longer in pain, is dependent. Dependency can lead to addiction but in most cases involves nothing more dramatic than a tapering off of the dose (with support). I'm sure I'm going to promote responses from nurses who will know of cases where the use of mild opiates has led to addiction - they just don't represent the majority (the patients not the nurses).
    I agree that the promotion of the use of codeine and DHC for minor ailments should be discouraged - but for longer term pain the 3 day period may seem a bit mean.
    Finally all this may do is to feed a patient's (and nurses and doctor's) oipiophobia, where that may be their best option for pain control.

    Neill Whyborne Pain Nurse UHNT

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