Tramadol could be reclassified as a class C drug under government plans to tackle a surge in deaths involving the prescription painkiller.
The move would see the drug placed in schedule 3 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001, making it "consistent" with the scheduling of other opioids for treating moderate to severe pain, the Home Office said in a consultation launched on Monday (July 22).
The drug would still be available on prescription for patients who need it, but the rescheduling would mean access "will be appropriately restricted," it said.
Tramadol's reclassification to schedule 3 would mean patients would have to physically take the prescription to a pharmacy for dispensing
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Tramadol's move to schedule 3 should mean no extra costs to pharmacists as they have safes to store controlled drugs already, the Home Office said, adding that it would mean patients having to physically take the prescription to a pharmacy for dispensing.
The Home Office launched the 12-week consultation in response to an investigation by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).
In February, the ACMD called for tramadol to be placed under tighter control because it found the number of deaths involving the analgesic had almost doubled from 83 in 2008 to 154 in 2011. The drug was widely available online, easily obtainable without a prescription and most tramadol-related deaths occurred when the drug was obtained through non-prescribed means, it found.
In the same consultation, which runs until October 11, the Home Office has also proposed plans to remove restrictions on prescriptions for the widely misused temazepam.
Temazepam will remain in schedule 3, but the requirement for a handwritten signature will be removed. This option would "provide an appropriate level of control for temazepam without introducing excessive burdens on the prescribers", it said.
This would align temazepam with recent changes allowing prescriptions for schedule 3 drugs to be computer generated, the Home Office added.
How would controlled-drug status for tramadol affect your patients taking the painkillers?