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Last Updated: Friday, 19 May 2006, 10:00 GMT 11:00 UK
Pharmacies to sell migraine drug
Woman holding her head
Two thirds of migraine sufferers are women
A migraine drug is to be made available over-the-counter in the UK for the first time, the medicines watchdog has announced.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency said Imigran Recovery (sumatriptan) can be safely sold for the relief of acute migraine attacks.

It is a type of drug called triptans, the first to treat the causes of migraine rather than the symptoms.

The drug will be available in chemists throughout the UK from mid-June.

It gives patients more flexibility in how they want to manage their migraines
Ann Turner, Migraine Association

Migraine affects up to 15% of the UK population, and around two thirds of sufferers are women. An attack can last from 4 hours to 72 hours.

There are a range of triggers, including emotional or physical stress, foods - such as coffee or cheese and hormones.

Up to 60% of people affected rely on over-the-counter medicines to cope with their symptoms.

However, the drugs currently available can only relieve symptoms, rather than treating the cause of migraine.

'Burden reduced'

The MHRA said that being able to buy the drug in a pharmacy would allow patients to manage their own symptoms without having to spend time visiting their doctor.

Pharmacists will have to abide by a strict protocol when selling the medication to ensure it is safe and effective.

The drugs will be sold in packs of two, costing 7.99.

Professor Kent Woods, chief executive of the MHRA, said: "The ability to buy these medicines in a pharmacy under carefully controlled conditions will enable patients to get treatment straight away and will reduce the burden of migraine.

"As triptans should be taken as early as possible in a migraine attack, the pharmacy availability of these important medicines will be beneficial to patients who suffer from migraines, especially those who have infrequent attacks and may not always have prescription medicines to hand."

Professor Gordon Duff, chairman of the Commission on Human Medicines (CHM), said, "The first consideration with any switch to over-the-counter availability must always be patient safety.

He added: "Before a medicine can be made more widely available, it is assessed against strict criteria relating to its safety in the circumstances in which it will be used.

"Sumatriptan has been available in the UK since 1991 on prescription and the safety profile is well established."

'A serious issue'

Ann Turner, director of the Migraine Association, welcomed the MHRA's decision.

"It gives patients more flexibility in how they want to manage their migraines.

"This class of drugs really did change people's lives when it was introduced.

"It was the first class to really address the cause of migraine and not just treat the symptoms."

Hemant Patel, President of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, said: "Acute migraines are a serious health issue for those who suffer from them and treatment at the first sign of an attack can help speed up recovery time."

He said the move would allow pharmacists to play a greater role in helping people with an established pattern of migraine manage their condition.




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