Some commonly used cough medicines now need a prescription

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Some pharmacists are scrambling to take cough medicines off pharmacy shelves following a toughening up by the Health Ministry.

On Monday 25 February the Health Ministry gazetted a reclassification of some commonly used cough mixtures and medicines.

Cough suppressant dextromethorphan, or DXM, is now a prescription medicine, and also restricted, meaning it has to be obtained from a pharmacist rather than off a shelf.

Opium tincture and squill oxymel, also need a prescription. These changes took effect at the moment of gazetting, on Monday.

Pharmacy Today said in an article yesterday that brands affected in the commonly used medicines were Gee's Linctus, Benadryl, Codral, Coldrex, Dimetapp, Panadol Cold & Flu Relief, Robitussin, Strepsils, Vicks and Your Pharmacy.

Auckland community pharmacist Sara Doughtery said they did not find out about the change until Thursday morning when there was a lot to do in a short time.

She told RNZ yesterday: "We were immediately on the shop floor having to pull all the products off the shelf, which takes our staff away from their role as serving our communities."

"It's a mad scramble. It doesn't look professional when you walk into a pharmacy when you see the staff ripping things off the shelf," she said.

Ms Doughtery also said software would have to be changed so it would prompt staff to ensure a pharmacist had been involved in the sale of the newly restricted products.

And she questioned whether some supermarkets had acted as swiftly to pull their stocks off shelves.

Chris Jay of the Pharmaceutical Society said they were informed of the change by the Health Ministry on Monday and let pharmacy members know after that. He said the ministry had acted as normal in advising others of the decision.

The ministry declined to be interviewed but said possible reclassification of the medicines was considered by its Medsafe unit in November and December last year.

Group manager Chris James said Medsafe was alerted to "instances of abuse of cough medicines containing dextromethorphan by an external source who raised concerns that dextromethorphan-containing cough medicines currently can be bought in a supermarket or a pharmacy without any healthcare professional supervision".

Dextromethorphan (DXM) has a history of being "abused overseas and there have been occasional anecdotal reports of problems in New Zealand".

Mr James added DXM was easily obtained in New Zealand especially as some products could be bought at the supermarket.

He said a reduction in use had been shown internationally with education of healthcare professionals and restrictions on availability.

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