With no formal release date or a timescale, the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is believed to be initiating a review of over-the-counter (OTC) stimulant laxatives, following ‘concerns’ over their use by people with eating disorders. The review is likely to take a few months. This is a story waiting in the wings since October 2014, where the consumer BBC ‘Watchdog’ programmes highlighted the issues surrounding these products. The news has spread this week through the media, with the Times and BBC providing coverage.
In 2012, a survey by the eating disorder charity Beat, found that of 158 people with an eating disorder who had used laxatives as part of their routine, 84% had bought them OTC. The survey also showed that 67% developed an addiction or dependency to the medicines.
Sales data from Kantar Worldpanel shows around 3.1 million packs of over-the-counter laxatives are sold every year in the UK, at a cost of £14.1 million. It’s not a small issue.
Options include raising the minimum age to purchase above 16 years, restricting the number of packs bought at one time (like paracetamol), restriction pack size to 10 doses, additional warnings added to the patient leaflet/carton (this is not w weight loss product’ and potential reverse reclassification of the status from a General Sales List medicine to a Pharmacy only category, meaning a pharmacist needs to supervise the sale.
More education of healthcare professionals into the dangers misuse/abuse of OTC laxatives will surely follow any changes proposed.
People may not be aware that excessive laxative abuse can cause low levels of potassium in the body – potassium regulates the heart and people who abuse this are at risk of a heart attack.
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