The warning follows an incident last month at a pharmacy in Rossendale, Lancashire, in which a methadone addict tried to buy a supply of the anti-ulcer drug cimetidine. It has been available on prescription only for years, but the Government has recently approved it for over-the- counter sale, a move that has been welcomed by SmithKline Beecham, the manufacturer.
The company says there is no evidence that cimetidine, which should be available within months, has any significant interaction with morphine - another opiate drug - which would make addicts want to use it, and says this also applies to drugs related to morphine. Some experts contest this view, arguing that the body breaks down morphine in a different way to methadone. Addicts are known to have sophisticated information networks scouring reference books for information on drugs.
Robert Barnes, pharmacist at the Haslingden health centre pharmacy in Rossendale, said that the man who wanted cimetidine was well-known to him and was one of the eight to 10 addicts who received methadone supplies on prescription from the centre each week. Although the addict was entitled to free prescriptions he wanted to pay for the cimetidine. The cost for a month's supply is estimated at pounds 50- pounds 60.