The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has so far taken serious enforcement action against 36 pharmacy premises and a pharmacy professional after investigations revealed unusual high sales of codeine linctus.

The council initiated this process in July 2020.

Codeine linctus is classified as a Pharmacy (P) medicine under the Medicines Act 1968 and the Human Medicines Regulations 2012 which allows it to be sold only under a pharmacist’s supervision, by a pharmacy, without prescription.

The medicine, occasionally used for a dry cough, is high risk because of known problems associated with its misuse, abuse or overuse.

The investigation found that pharmacies involved did not properly identify and manage the risks related to obtaining or selling codeine linctus, GPhC said in a statement.

“Our unannounced inspections identified that appropriate safeguards were not always in place to ensure sales were managed safely and appropriately. There were often insufficient controls to prevent repeat sales or to identify trends in requests. In some cases, repeat sales were even made knowingly to the same people,” it said.

After the inspections, the offending pharmacies had conditions put on their registration that they “must not sell or supply any codeine linctus preparations” without an NHS prescription.

Besides, a warning has been issued to the superintendent pharmacist and regular responsible pharmacist of one of the pharmacies involved, who were found to have allowed the supply of codeine linctus without sufficient checks.

Claire Bryce-Smith, Director of Insight, Intelligence and Inspection said: “Opioids are a high-risk medicine with potential for abuse. We know that across Great Britain most pharmacies and professionals have appropriate safeguards in place in order to prevent them being misused and to provide patients with safe patient-centred care. Over the course of one year we have taken swift and robust action against 36 pharmacies and a superintendent pharmacist who were found not to have these safeguards in place.

“People requesting codeine linctus can be well-rehearsed, believable or aggressive and will often exploit shift patterns, relying on poor handover or communication between shifts. We are asking pharmacy owners and professionals to remain vigilant and ensure controls are in place to prevent repeat sales or to identify trends in requests.”

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