Codeine linctus has been reclassified to a prescription-only medicine (POM) following concerns it was being used recreationally for its ‘opioid effects’, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has announced.

The cough syrup, which is indicated for dry cough and contains the opioid painkiller codeine, was previously a Pharmacy (P) status medicine.

The move from the MHRA follows a public consultation and a review of its safety which it said revealed that codeine linctus was ‘being used recreationally for its opioid effects, rather than for its intended use as a cough suppressant’.

‘This carries a serious risk of addiction and overdose which can be fatal,’ the MHRA said today.

The government body also highlighted ‘significant concerns’ about the use of codeine linctus as an ingredient in a recreational drink.

Meanwhile, healthcare professionals had also ‘identified individuals repeatedly requesting codeine linctus who are potentially addicted to it’, it said.

A public consultation on the reclassification was open last summer and followed advice from the Commission on Human Medicines (CHM) which suggested codeine linctus should be made available as a POM.

‘Following the results of the public consultation and the further advice of the CHM, codeine linctus will no longer be supplied without a prescription,’ the MHRA said in its drug safety update.

‘This is a risk minimisation measure to protect the health of patients in need of treatment, to prevent recreational use and to enable the identification of individuals who may have become unintentionally addicted to codeine.’

It added: ‘Patients will still be able to access codeine linctus with a prescription from a qualified healthcare professional.

‘This will ensure that the medicine is used safely and appropriately under medical supervision.’

President of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Professor Claire Anderson said the organisation welcomed the decision ‘as a positive step to protect patient safety’.

‘This decision not only addresses concerns about the misuse and addictive potential of codeine linctus but also underscores the importance of prioritising patient wellbeing,’ she added.

Professor Anderson said many pharmacists no longer stocked codeine linctus ‘due to concerns about addiction and abuse’, while those that did ‘often experience aggression’ from patients if they decide it is not clinically appropriate to supply.

‘There are many alternative non-codeine-based products available to treat a dry cough,’ she said.

‘As the most accessible of healthcare professionals, community pharmacists and their teams will continue to provide expert advice on managing dry cough and guide people towards suitable treatments.’