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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 April 2007, 10:09 GMT 11:09 UK
Crystal meth fears over medicine
Crystal Meth
Methamphetamine comes in crystal, powder and pill form
Some over-the-counter flu remedies could face restrictions, amid fears that they are being used to produce the highly addictive drug, crystal meth.

Pseudoephedrine and ephedrine, contained in certain flu remedies, can be used to make the drug.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency is considering making these ingredients prescription-only.

It comes after Health Minister Caroline Flint said police found the ingredients in raids on drug factories.

Crystal meth, also known as methylamphetamine, was reclassified last January as a Class A drug.

If methylamphetamine did secure a hold in the UK, the consequences would undoubtedly be very serious
Caroline Flint

The highly addictive substance affects the central nervous system and can cause serious physical and psychological harm.

When smoked in its crystalline form, the stimulant produces effects similar to, but longer-lasting than, crack cocaine.

According to research findings, chronic use can lead to psychosis, including paranoia and violent behaviour.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is now considering plans to restrict the pack size of medicines and make pseudoephedrine and ephedrine prescription-only.

Crystal meth is a central nervous system stimulant
It can induce a euphoria, similar to, but more intense than cocaine
It takes the form of a white odourless and bitter-tasting powder
It is smoked, injected, snorted or taken orally
Regular use can lead to dependency
Withdrawal symptoms can include depression, anxiety and craving for the drug

In a written Commons answer, Ms Flint said: "Although the prevalence of misuse of methylamphetamine is believed to be currently low in the UK, the Association of Chief Police Officers are receiving increasing levels of intelligence about the prevalence of methylamphetamine.

"If methylamphetamine did secure a hold in the UK, the consequences would undoubtedly be very serious.

"The international experience shows that misuse can spread rapidly when certain conditions prevail and the advice of UK enforcement authorities is that most of these conditions now prevail in the UK."

The minister said ACPO and the Serious Organised Crime Agency had advised that the availability of the drug was "increasing" - as shown by a rise in illicit laboratories manufacturing the drug in the UK.

Martin Barnes, chief executive of DrugScope, said: "Tighter control on medicines which can be used to manufacture crystal meth would be a sensible precautionary measure and should be supported, although making medicines containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine available only on prescription is just one option.

"Pharmacists should be made fully aware of the potential for misuse of these medicines so they can alert the police about suspicious or bulk purchases."

The National Pharmacy Association said they disagreed with the proposals.

Colette McCreedy, NPA director of practice said: "Pseudoephedrine is widely used as a decongestant and there are currently many over the counter products which would be affected by this reclassification including commonly used cough and cold remedies that are highly valued by the public."

She added that pharmacists were capable of controlling sales of such products which could be limited to one pack per patient.

Rob Darracott, chief executive of the Company Chemists Association said better awareness and monitoring of sales would be a better solution.

"Our concern is the proposals go further than most other countries have done so far."


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