Tramadol should be made a Class C drug, but still be available to those who require it on prescription, says the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).
Tramadol is used to treat moderate to severe pain, including the treatment of fibromyalgia (chronic widespread pain), cancer pain and moderate to severe musculoskeletal pain. However as it is a psychoactive agent of the opioid class, it can be liable to misuse.
The government has accepted the ACMD's recommendation, subject to a public consultation, to ensure that those who need it will still have access to it under a process known as scheduling.
The crime prevention minister Jeremy Browne launched the consultation on 22 July.
Mr Browne said: ‘Tackling drug misuse is a key priority for this government. I am grateful for the advice from the ACMD in light of growing concerns around tramadol misuse. While it will continue to be available under prescription for those that need it, placing it in a schedule will mean access to the drug will be appropriately restricted.'
There are five schedules, with Schedule 1 containing the most restricted drugs considered to have little or no medicinal use such as LSD or ecstasy. Schedule 5 contains drugs that are available over the counter.
The ACMD recommends placing tramadol in Schedule 3. These drugs can be prescribed and legally possessed and supplied by doctors and pharmacists and must be stored in safes meeting minimum standards set out in law.
It also advises that healthcare professionals and prescribers who come into contact with people who use tramadol should be given appropriate training.
The consultation can be completed online and will close on 11 October 2013.
The number of deaths involving tramadol has risen from 83 in 2008 to 154 in 2011, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. The majority of tramadol related-deaths occurred where it has not been obtained through a prescription.