World news wrapup: 27 July 2017

No lead-in period for codeine upschedule in France; Boots backs down on EC price; NZ synthetic cannabis deaths; homeopathy scripts scrapped in UK

France: French Health Minister Agnès Buzyn has announced the upscheduling of codeine-containing preparations to prescription only in a bid to end misuse of the products.

The change was effective immediately and follows concerns over young people consuming OTC codeine-containing cough syrup mixed with soft drink or alcohol in a cocktail known as “purple drank”.

According to the National Agency for the Safety of Medicines and Health Products, the number of incidents related to “purple drank” have grown since September 2015, with two deaths of adolescents recorded this year.


UK: Boots has apologised for its “poor choice of words” over its initial refusal to lower the cost of emergency contraception.

Boots, among other British pharmacy chains, was approached by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service and asked to review its pricing.

Superdrug and Tesco reduced the cost of progestogen-based emergency contraception to £13.50 (AUD$22.20), but Boots refused, saying the price was set high to discourage “inappropriate use”.

Boots has now agreed to drop the price.

It issued a statement in which it said that “pharmacy and care for customers are at the heart of everything we do and as such we are truly sorry that our poor choice of words in describing our position on Emergency Hormonal Contraception (EHC) has caused offence and misunderstanding and we sincerely apologise.

“The pricing of EHC is determined by the cost of the medicine and the cost of the pharmacy consultation. We are committed to looking at the sourcing of less expensive EHC medicines, for example generics, to enable us to continue to make a privately funded EHC service even more accessible in the future.

“In addition the NHS EHC service where it is locally commissioned, is provided for free in over 1,700 of our pharmacies, and we continue to urge the NHS to extend this free service more widely.”

BPAS said it was “delighted” at Boots’ decision.


England: England could see an end to prescriptions for homeopathy under a plan released by NHS England.

The body published detailed plans, which were drawn up with pharmacists and GPs, to cut out prescriptions for “ineffective, over-priced and low value treatments” and ideally create hundreds of millions in savings for the health service.

Simon Stevens, NHS England’s chief executive, described homeopathy as “at best a placebo and a misuse of scarce NHS funds”.

NHS England has launched a formal public consultation on the plan, which would see 18 treatments – including herbal treatments as well as homeopathy – no longer prescribed.

The consultation also covers a further 3,200 prescription items, many of which are readily available and sold over the counter in pharmacies, supermarkets, petrol stations, corner shops and other retailers.

The consultation proposes initial action to limit prescribing of products for minor self-limiting conditions which currently cost taxpayers £50-100 million (AUD$82—165 million) a year. The products include cough mixture and cold treatments, eye drops, laxatives and sun cream lotions.

NHS England is also supportive of restricting the availability of gluten-free foods on prescription, which costs £26million a year, which is currently subject to a Department of Health consultation.


Auckland, NZ: Auckland Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall and police have issued a public warning about the dangers of synthetic cannabis, after seven people died following use of the drug this month alone.

The NZ Herald reports that the victims were either found with synthetic cannabis on them, or had used it recently.

Judge Marshall said that while investigations are ongoing and the final causes of death are yet to be established, the number of cases where the drug appears to have been a contributing factor prompted the warning.

“I’ve also been advised by St John that there have been a significant number of non-fatal cases where people have been hospitalised after using the drug, which is known to cause potentially fatal seizures,” she said.

Detective Inspector Gary Lendrum urged people to stop using the drug, and to intervene if they were aware family members were using it.

He there had been an increase in the number of people observed under the influence of synthetic cannabis, who in some cases were “acting like zombies”.

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