There is little hard evidence as to how many are 'addicted' to painkillers
Over the counter painkillers containing codeine can become addictive in just three days, the government's drug watchdog has said.
Packets of the medicines, which include Nurofen Plus and Solpadeine Plus, will now come with stronger warnings on the risk of dependency.
It comes after a parliamentary report warned of the dangers of the drugs.
Figures show 27 million packs of codeine-containing painkillers are sold every year in the UK.
It has been reported that 30,000 people have become addicted to medicines containing codeine - an effective analgesic which is combined with other painkillers such as paracetamol for sale by the pharmacist.
But MPs have warned this figure could be the tip of the iceberg.
These products can be addictive and we are taking action to tackle this risk
Dr June Raine, MHRA
The medicines, which are used for migraine, backache, dental pain and period pain, will have to carry more prominent warnings on addiction both on the packaging and the leaflet inside, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, said.
And consumers will be warned not to take them for more than three days at a time.
It will also include advice on using them only for pain not relieved by simple painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen.
Any suggestion that the pills should be used for colds, flu, coughs and sore throats, as well as references to minor painful conditions will be removed.
Large packs of effervescent codeine drugs will only be available on prescription.
Pack sizes will be limited to a maximum of 32, but the All Party Parliamentary Drug Misuse Group had called for them to be restricted to 18 pills per pack.
Dr June Raine: "People will be advised to take codeine for no longer than three days"
Dr June Raine, MHRA director of vigilance and risk management, of Medicines said that taken in the correct manner and for the right purposes, codeine and dihydrocodeine are very effective and acceptably safe medicines.
"However, these products can be addictive and we are taking action to tackle this risk," she said.
Paracodol Capsules and Tablets
Paramol Tablets and Soluble Tablets
Solpadeine Migraine Ibuprofen & Codeine Tablets
Solpadeine Plus Capsules, Tablets and Soluble Tablets
She added they wanted to ensure that people had clear information on what the medicines should be used for and how to minimise the risk of addiction.
"Anyone who has concerns should speak to their pharmacist or a doctor."
The Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB), the trade association representing manufacturers of over the counter medicines, said they supported the moves.
Sheila Kelly, PAGB executive director, said safety was of paramount concern.
"PAGB member companies already voluntarily restrict pack sizes to 32 tablets and added addiction warnings to packs back in 2005.
"The new labelling to increase the prominence of the addiction warning by moving it to the front of the pack, and to limit the indications to moderate acute pain that does not respond to paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin alone, will be introduced as soon as possible."
She added that the vast majority of people use codeine containing products correctly and have no need to worry that they are doing themselves any harm.
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