The sizes of medicine packs, including some cold and flu remedies, could be reduced in a bid to counter the manufacture of illegal drugs.
The Health Products Regulatory Authority is in consultation with the pharmaceutical industry and relevant experts regarding the sale of medicines containing pseudoephedrine — a substance which can be used to produce crystal meth .
The HPRA wrote to a number of bodies last December indicating that gardaí had expressed concern about the increased production of methamphetamine using pseudoephedrine sourced from pharmacies.
Pseudoephedrine-based products have been used to illegally produce amphetamine-type stimulants, which are the world’s second most widely abused drug type after cannabis according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. As a result, a number of countries have introduced controls on the sale of pseudoephedrine.
However the trade union for Irish pharmacists has warned the HPRA against making pseudoephedrine a prescription-only medicine, and said such a move would see a “significant increase in the number of patients requiring GP appointments for prescriptions for medicines to treat common medical complaints such as cold or sinusitis”.
“Community pharmacists are in a strong position to exercise professional judgement and refuse to supply pseudoephedrine-containing products, if deemed necessary. The IPU regularly advises its members to be vigilant in regard to purchases of pseudoephedrine and to ensure that sales are limited to one pack per person,” the body said.
In its submission to the HPRA, the IPU warned that methamphetamine can be produced cheaply and efficiently using medicines found in pharmacies: “Methamphetamine is produced in clandestine laboratories using pseudoephedrine and ephedrine diverted from cold and flu preparations.
“Laboratories for making crystal meth have been found in suburban houses, garages and warehouses. Some laboratories are small enough to fit into a car boot or even inside a suitcase.”
“The production of crystal meth is profitable and mark-ups are significant. Just 30 tablets, each containing 60mg of pseudoephedrine, can produce more than 300 doses of methamphetamine. The substance abusers have even developed a method of making crystal meth with only four tablets of pseudoephedrine,” the IPU said.
The HPRA said this ongoing consultation is not intended to result in a restriction of the availability of medicines containing pseudoephedrine, but a reduction in pack size is likely. “The majority of pseudoephedrine-containing medicines are available without prescription in pharmacies for the treatment of nasal congestion associated with the common cold and allergic conditions,” the HPRA said.
“Pseudoephedrine is associated with side effects when the recommended dose and/or duration of treatment is exceeded and is also associated with diversion in the manufacture of illegal drugs such as methamphetamine and crystal meth. The HPRA is currently reviewing the supply conditions for non-prescription pseudoephedrine with the relevant marketing authorisation holders for these medicines; it is not the HPRA’s intention to restrict the availability of these medicines. The likely impact will be a small reduction in pack size, in line with other countries, which will still enable appropriate use in the approved indications.”
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