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Tramadol, zopiclone and zaleplon reclassified as controlled drugs

The common painkiller has been placed in schedule 3 while the hypnotics become schedule 4 part 1

Tramadol has become a controlled drug along with zopiclone and zaleplon following regulations that came into effect yesterday (June 10).


The painkiller has been placed in schedule 3 and reclassified as a class C drug.


The Home Office announced the change in March, following a 12-week consultation carried out last summer in response to a surge in deaths involving tramadol.


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Tramadol remains exempt from the safe custody requirements of other schedule 3 drugs, as a result of responses to the consultation, but is subject to full prescription writing requirements.


Zopiclone and zaleplon have been placed alongside zolpidem and benzodiazepines in schedule 4 part 1 class.


Alongside the changes, the government confirmed that the ADHD drug lisdexamphetamine remains in schedule 2.

11 Comments

Sarah Spicer, Non healthcare professional

Hi just a quick question my dad suffers with severve back pain and was prescribed tramadol by his doctor but with the law changeing he is no longer able to take these do you have a idea what else he can take as a substitute many thanks

Small Pharm Owner, Other pharmacy staff

Hopefully the new rule changes will eliminate people selling Tramadol on ebay. I was amazed when a patient said they could get it on there!

Since trauma doll seems to be the cure for which there is no known disease, hopefully prescribing will decrease with a proportionate decrease in old folks going barmy.

Chad Harris, Community pharmacist

More work, no gain!

Tariq Atchia, Pharmacy Area manager/ Operations Manager

Not true, dispensing fee is higher for controlled drugs.

John Randell, Non Pharmacist Branch Manager

only difference is having quantity in words and figures which you can amend if you have one or ythe other.....

and you get paid more for that so its A BIG WIN

Calum Nelson, Locum pharmacist

John, that's not the only difference. The scripts are now only valid for 28 days, the directions need to have the number of dosage units to be used per dose, instalment scripts must say the number to be given with each dispensing and you can't accept a phoned or faxed script (plus a few other differences).

But apart from the hassle of getting GPs to write the scripts properly (especially because they still get it wrong for drugs like morphine that have been CDs since forever) it's no biggie.

Daniel McNulty, Superintendent Pharmacist

It isn't much extra work but it is some and I'm already busy.
Rooting through bags to show patients what they're signing for, extra signatures for deliveries, extra CD invoice filing etc

Chad Harris makes a vaild point - it's worth it if patients benefit.

However, I've looked for the problem to which this change in category is the solution - any ideas anyone?

"Dr Bill Beeby, deputy chair of the GPC’s clinical and prescribing subcommittee questioned how much impact the changes would have on tramadol over-dosing.."
"Dr Richard West, chair of the Dispensing Doctors’ Association ‘We have concerns the proposals represent expensive over-regulation – we’re not sure the changes they propose will solve the perceived problem.’ "

Lookks like I'm not on my own.

Ben Merriman, Community pharmacist

My understanding is that the changes have been made due to the problem of people "acquiring" tramadol illicitly. Until Tuesday, it wasn't a criminal offence to possess tramadol, the same way it's not a criminal offence to possess any POM. Now, possession can be dealt with by the authorities. Of course, it's always been illegal to sell/supply without a prescription but this will further (hopefully) clamp down on the black market.

As far as which schedule to put it in, it can't be schedule 5 (CD Inv) as to be in this schedule, it must be in another higher one; it can't be in schedule 4 either as it is neither a benzo nor an anabolic steroid. So schedule three it is.

At least it's not subject to safe custody. But why they couldn't exempt handwriting requirements, I don't know...

Calum Nelson, Locum pharmacist

Handwriting requirements? CDs haven't had to be handwritten for years.

But I can't see the point to be honest. Making drugs illegal to stop possession doesn't work, as can be seen with any of the existing controlled drugs. All it means is that rather than protecting people, we throw them in jail and prevent them from ever having a normal life again. After prison time and with a record for drug possession, making an honest living becomes a lot more difficult and self-medicating with drugs becomes a lot more attractive. Convicting people isn't a good way to protect them, or save the taxpayer money, or protect the rest of us. I'm not saying that we shouldn't have controls on prescription drugs and particularly those that are at risk of misuse (as hindsight proved with Harold Shipman) but I just don't think that making drugs illegal to possess helps anyone.

Most of the tramadol being abused will likely come from diverted prescription supplies. People selling on their prescribed medicines don't care whether it's a POM or a Schedule 3 Controlled Drug, so this isn't going to stop them. If tramadol does become less available then people can always buy heroin: illegal to possess but not exactly difficult to find.

More work. It remains to be seen if there will be a decrease in the number of deaths due to tramadol, but even a small decrease in this would be what I consider to be a gain.

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