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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 January 2007, 17:41 GMT
Painkiller ban 'to stay in place'
Anne Begg called for the ban on co-proxamol to be lifted
Ministers have effectively ruled out a review of a ban on the painkiller co-proxamol.

Anne Begg, Labour MP for Aberdeen South, and former GP Dr Howard Stoate, the MP for Dartford, raised the issue at a House of Commons debate.

They argued that the Department of Health should reconsider regulations which prevent most GPs from prescribing the painkiller.

Many GPs believe it is the best drug for certain arthritis sufferers.

Co-proxamol is used by hundreds of thousands of patients but is to be withdrawn over reports linking about 400 deaths to overdoses of the drug.

For the sake of patients who have no alternative effective pain relief other than co-proxamol we need the Department of Health to lift the ban
Anne Begg
MP for Aberdeen South

The Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency's (MHRA) claimed that taking 10 pills in a 24 hour period could lead to slowing of the respiratory system, abnormal heart rhythms and cardiac arrest.

Co-proxamol contains a combination of paracetamol and dextropropoxyphene.

It is estimated that 1.7 million GP patients in the UK receive a prescription for the drug each year.

A phased ban was introduced in 2005 but the painkiller will still be available on prescription until the end of this year.

However, Ms Begg insisted that the ban should never have been implemented.

She added: "The MHRA banned co-proxamol over concerns that the drug was being used to commit suicide, a decision which has been described by the chief prescribing officer of the BMA's General Practitioners committee as 'absolute and utter nonsense'.

"For the sake of patients who have no alternative effective pain relief other than co-proxamol we need the Department of Health to lift the ban for existing patients."

Ms Begg held a previous debate on co-proxamol in July 2005, where the government conceded that some patients should still be allowed to use the drug on a "named patient" basis which allows a doctor to prescribe an unlicensed drug.

But as this left doctors liable for the consequences many have been unwilling to prescribe the drug, even where they feel it is the best form of pain relief for the patient, claimed Ms Begg.

Dr Howard Stoate, who is a member of the Health Select Committee as well as a practising GP, agreed with her concerns.

Pharmacy - generic
The MRHA said patients are being offered alternative drugs

"Withdrawing co-proxamol's licence makes no sense whatsoever," he said.

"Co-proxamol remains the most effective means of pain management for many patients and GPs should have the right to prescribe it to them where necessary - without having to walk a legal tightrope."

The MRHA said a phased withdrawal of the drug has been implemented to allow long term users time to become accustomed to "suitable alternatives".

In a statement, it said: "We recognise that there is a small group of patients who are likely to find it very difficult to change or where there is an identified clinical need; when alternatives appear not to be effective or suitable.

"For these patients, continued provision of co-proxamol through normal prescribing may continue until the cancellation of the licences at the end of 2007.

"After this time there is a provision for the supply of unlicensed co-proxamol, on the responsibility of the prescriber".


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