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MHRA introduces measures to slash abuse of stimulant laxatives

The MHRA has introduced new restrictions on over the counter sales of stimulant laxatives in a bid to reduce misuse of the products, including for weight loss purposes.

Stimulant laxatives will be sold in smaller packs from this summer to help “reduce abuse and overuse”, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said in a statement today (August 18).

The MHRA also mandated that the products display additional on-pack warnings about the risks associated with overuse and to make it clear to patients that they do not help with weight loss.

Retail outlets will now only be allowed to sell stimulant laxatives to customers over the age of 18 but “pharmacists will be able to sell [them] for use in children aged 12 and over,” the MHRA said.

The new measures apply to pharmacy medicine and general sale list stimulant laxatives of senna and sennosides, bisacodyl and sodium picosulfate.

Guidance for pharmacy teams

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has collaborated with the MHRA on new guidance for pharmacists and their teams to help them advise patients on the “safe and correct use” of stimulant laxatives.

“Our new guidance and work with the MHRA will help to improve patient safety and support community pharmacists and their teams in giving the best possible care for those wanting to purchase these products,” RPS president Sandra Gidley said in a statement today.

Ms Gidley encouraged patients to seek the advice of community pharmacy teams “if they are unsure or concerned about the laxative products they are taking” as “pharmacists have the best expertise on medicines of any health professionals”.

The MHRA also advised parents and carers to speak to a pharmacist “about treatment of short-term constipation in children over 12”, but said they should approach their GP if the child is younger than 12, or if they are concerned about the health of the child.

Evidence of abuse

Stimulant laxatives can be abused by people with eating disorders, adopted for long-term use by the elderly and inappropriately used in children, according to director of the MHRA vigilance and risk management of medicines division Dr Sarah Branch.

“We believe these new measures are necessary to address the risks associated with misuse while continuing to allow safe and appropriate access to these medicines without prescription to treat short-term constipation,” she said.

What do you make of the MHRA's announcement?

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