Anyone who has bought a packet of painkillers from a pharmacy will probably have been asked if they have taken that brand before, and if they have any allergies or other conditions.

But you can pick up a packet in a supermarket and pop it in your shopping trolley, with your weekly groceries, with no questions asked.

When prescribed drugs by a GP, patients are assessed. Factors such as allergies, mental health, alcohol or drug dependency, and physical conditions, including whether pregnant, are taken into account. This extends to pharmacies too, where staff follow guidelines to assess the suitability of medication, and offer guidance on how to take it.

As well as issuing GPs’ prescriptions and providing an over-the-counter service, city centre pharmacy Rimmingtons has an area used by drug users in recovery at Bradford drug treatment charity Bridge. They take prescribed medication, such as methadone, under supervision on the premises.

Some medication is taken home, but pharmacy manager Qaiser Sheikh said with moves in place nationally to introduce seven-day dispensing, there will be more supervised consumption at weekends too.

He said: “Medication is classified according to legislation. Controlled drugs fall into four categories: Schedule One is drugs, including heroin, used for research only and outside the remit of clinical use.

Schedule Two is methadone, suboxone and morphine for chronic pain relief, which can be used legitimately, or misused.

Schedule Three is a higher restriction.

Schedule Four is diazepam and barbituates. Schedule two, three and four are fed through the pharmacy.

“In terms of clinical use, these drugs can be beneficial. It is when they are used in a social context for recreational use, such as a substitute for other drugs, that it needs to be addressed.

“There is a move towards seven-day dispensing under a supervised system, even for Class Four. Drugs taken under supervision don’t find their way onto the street.”

In the main area of any chemist’s store, there is potential for addiction too. Many drugs sold over-the-counter have the potential for dependency, says Mr Sheikh.

“Potentially, anything can become dangerous if taken wrongly,” he said. “We have procedures in place to help people choose correctly. Staff follow guidelines to make sure the right medication is given, and they are trained to spot signs of misuse.

“People take painkillers to get rid of a pain - that is their primary aim - and they’re often oblivious to the potential harm and side effects. When it comes to pain management all people think of is reducing the pain, but pain is a symptom of something. It could be an ulcer, or if you have a continual headache it could be an eye problem.

“If you can’t sleep, or you have a migraine, it can have a debilitating effect on your life. People get into a habit of taking medication for this; they think they’re taking it to control the problem, but eventually they can become addicted, and that is why they’re continuing to take it. It can lead to them taking something else, which can easily spiral out of control.”

Mr Sheikh said over the counter products that can become addictive include: l Nytol. “It’s a relaxant. The active ingredient is diphenhydramine hydrochloride, a sedative antihistamine,” he said.

  • Diphenhydramine. “This causes drowsiness, decreases the time taken to fall asleep and increases the depth and quality of sleep. It is intended for short-term use as a sleep aid,” he said.
  • Feminax, Co-codamol, Paracodol, Neurofen Plus and migraine products, which all contain codeine.
  • Decongestion such as Sudofed. “This can be misused for amphetamines, and can be used as an ingredient for Krystal Meth,” he said.

Mr Sheikl said the internet has worsened the problem of prescription drug use, as it has made access to medication, and counterfeit medication, more widespread. “People think it’s safe, but they don’t know what’s in it. Dealers bulk up drugs with other substances. Also, when buying medication this way, people are missing the vital guidelines.”

  • For advice on medication ring pharmacists at Rimmingtons on (01274) 626611.