From 1 February 2018, medicines containing codeine will no longer be available over-the-counter and will instead require a prescription from a doctor.
The Federal Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, made the decision last year on the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Medicines Scheduling, which is made up of Chief Pharmacists and Chief Health Officers in States and Territories.
“Over-the-counter codeine products have been estimated to be a factor in nearly 100 deaths each year, with evidence that three in four pain-killer misusers had misused an over-the-counter codeine product in the last 12 months,” Minister Hunt said.
The changes are in-line with the international practice of at least 26 countries that only allow prescription access to codeine based products.
These are: United States, United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Austria, Belgium, Hong Kong, Iceland, India, the Maldives, Romania, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal and Slovakia.
This change will have a large impact on many Canberrans that use medicines containing codeine as part of their pain medication regime.
The RiotACT spoke to local Canberra pharmacist and owner of several Canberra pharmacies, Matt Develin, to gauge the impact of this change.
“We have seen many people that are concerned about these changes. We are proactively helping them with their pain management and shifting them from codeine, to non-codeine based medication. Combination products of paracetamol and ibuprofen are beneficial and work well, however, may not be suitable for everyone in all cases,” Mr Develin said.
He says that there is some concern that the ban may backfire for some people.
“The over-the-counter ban will force some people to shift to other appropriate pain medication but it may also force another group to move to harder drugs including elicit opioids,” Mr Develin said.
“It’s unfortunate that a real-time monitoring system such as the one used to monitor pseudoephedrine sales was not mandated. This would have allowed continued access to codeine-based medications and helped pharmacists identify patients with a potential codeine addiction allowing suitable intervention, support and advice,” he says.
There is also concern about the increased costs for legitimate users of codeine-based medicines.
“I fear that there will be a backlash from customers over the next four to eight weeks as they realise and adapt to the new regulations. I’m also concerned about the additional costs to people, and Medicare, with doctors’ appointments and scripts,” Mr Develin explained.
If you are impacted by this change, Mr Develin recommends you speak to your pharmacist about an alternative over-the-counter medication or see a doctor.