Painkillers with codeine won’t be available without a prescription from February 2018.
This includes common medicines such as Nurofen Plus and Panadeine Forte. The Therapeutic Drugs Administration (TGA) decided to stop products containing codeine from being available over the counter to reduce the number of people getting addicted.
According to government agency data obtained by the Sydney Morning Herald the number of Australians being treated for codeine addiction more than tripled over the decade to 2012-13, from 318 to more than 1000 a year.
There have also been reports of codeine addicts swallowing up to 100 tablets a day, and people pharmacist hopping to get around rules that restrict purchases to no more than five days’ supply of the drug at one time.
The TGA said compelling evidence that patients were using the drug incorrectly. The harm caused by overuse and abuse of codeine products lead to its decision.
“Low dose codeine-containing medicines are not intended to treat long-term conditions. The public consultation indicated that many consumers used these products to self-treat chronic pain,” the regulator said in a statement.
“This meant that consumers frequently became addicted to codeine.
“The misuse of codeine products contributes to severe health outcomes. This includes liver damage, stomach ulceration and perforations, hypokalaemia (low blood potassium levels), respiratory depression and death.”
Doctor Tim Greenway, the TGA’s principal medical officer, told ABC News it’s important people realise the decision has been made based on safety predominantly and the risk of abuse.
“Medications that are available over the counter should be substantially safe and not subject to abuse,” Dr Greenway said.
“This is clearly not the case with codeine.”
What it means for patients
It will take 12 months for the change to take place. This will give patients with chronic pain time to work out an alternative treatment plan with their doctor.
“People who wish to use painkillers with codeine will have to obtain a prescription from their GP. Alternatively they can use over-the-counter product such as paracetamol, ibuprofen or a combination of these drugs,” the TGA said.
The rule will also apply to extra-strength cold and flu tablets that contain codeine. These include Codral, Demazin and Vicks day and night tablets.
Decision “fails consumers”: Pharmacy Guild
The Pharmacy Guild isn’t happy about the decision to make codeine products prescription drugs.
President George Tambassis said the change would only “create a barrier to the majority of consumers who use these products safely”.
“The decision has purportedly been made to help stamp out abuse of these medicines by some people. In reality this measure will only encourage vulnerable patients to doctor shop. They will try and find ways around the system,” he said in a statement.
“This decision will not address issues of misuse and abuse but rather will increase government expenditure on the Medicare Benefits Scheme and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme with consumers forced to visit a GP to have a prescription written.”
The Pharmacy Guild wants the industry to use a real-time recording system called MedsASSIST (that it developed) instead but the TGA has already said that idea is “illogical”.
If you need a prescription, your regular GP is closed, and want to speak to a home doctor in Sunshine Coast call House Call Doctor at 13 55 66.