The UK’s medicines watchdog is undertaking a review of over-the-counter (OTC) stimulant laxatives, following ‘concerns’ over their use by people with eating disorders.

The Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is currently reviewing the ‘safety’ of OTC stimulant laxatives, looking at the ‘overuse in people with eating disorders and long-term use in the elderly and children’.

An MHRA spokesperson told The Pharmacist today (24 September) that it anticipates the review to take a few ‘months’ and has not yet set a date for its release.


Concerns for ‘abuse and misuse’


The spokesperson said: ‘We’re reviewing the safety of stimulant laxatives, following concerns about the potential for abuse and misuse, and considering how regulatory measures can best support their correct use in line with current clinical guidance.

‘All medicines, including those bought OTC, must be used responsibly and as advised in the information provided with the medicine.

‘Patient safety is our highest priority and we work to make sure the benefits of medicines outweigh the risks. This includes assessing whether regulatory action is needed to minimise the potential for abuse.’

In 2012, a survey by the eating disorder charity Beat found that of 158 people with an eating disorder who had used laxatives as part of their routine, 84% had bought them OTC. The survey also showed that 67% developed an addiction or dependency to the medicines.


Pharmacists’ role in laxatives use


Beat argued that pharmacists and doctors should be ‘made aware that laxatives overuse is one of the signs of an eating disorder, so that they are able to ‘intervene and ensure sufferers get treatment’.

The charity also called on the MHRA to set up set up regulation to prevent the under-16s from buying laxatives, ‘an upper limit on the amount that can be purchased, and ensure they are ‘only available at pharmacies and not in general retail stores’.

Beat’s head of communications Rebecca Field said: ‘We know that laxatives pose severe health risks for people with eating disorders.

‘Patient safety should be an absolute priority and we welcome the MHRA’s review as an opportunity to ensure that is the case.

‘Just as painkillers are regulated to prevent people overusing them and harming their own health, there should be restrictions on the availability of laxatives.’

The MHRA did not specify what products and measures it will look at.

‘The review is ongoing and we would not want to prejudge the outcome,’ the watchdog’s spokesperson added.