From Addiction To Prescription: The Crackdown On Codeine

From 2018, patients will no longer be able to order medicines containing codeine without a prescription.

In a recent Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) statement, it has been announced that products containing codeine will no longer be available to purchase without a prescription.

Set to take effect from February 2018, this scheme will restrict people from purchasing painkillers such as Panadeine and Nurofen Plus, and most over-the-counter cold and flu tablets, without a doctor’s prescription.

The controversial decision to reschedule the drug was made in response to recent growing concerns about addiction, overdoses and other harm caused by codeine misuse.

In making this decision, the TGA took into consideration compelling evidence of the harm caused by overuse and abuse of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines containing codeine. They were also swayed by the fact that the USA, most of Europe, Hong Kong, Japan, the United Arab Emirates, and several other countries have already stopped codeine-containing products from being sold without a prescription.


“Low dose codeine-containing medicines are not intended to treat long term conditions; however, public consultation indicated that many consumers used these products to self-treat chronic pain. This meant that consumers frequently became addicted to codeine,” a spokesperson from the TGA said.

“The misuse of OTC codeine products contributes to severe health outcomes including liver damage, stomach ulceration and perforations, hypokalaemia (low blood potassium levels), respiratory depression, and death.”

Not all are happy about the verdict though, with the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia and the Pharmaceutical Guild of Australia opposing the decision.

The National President of the Pharmacy Guild, George Tambassis, said in a recent media release that the reported decision to upschedule the medicines was short-sighted. He said it would ultimately only add pressure to the already financially-stressed healthcare system, as well as increasing the burden on overworked doctors.

“Making these medicines Schedule 4 Prescription Only will simply create a barrier to the majority of consumers who use these products safely.

“The decision will not address the issues of misuse and abuse, but rather will increase government expenditure on the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), with consumers now forced to visit a GP,” said Mr Tambassis.

The TGA has allowed for products containing codeine to remain available without prescription from pharmacies until February 2018, saying this timeframe would allow consumers with chronic pain to discuss alternative treatments with their doctors.

Meanwhile, patients can still use over-the-counter products that do not contain codeine, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, or other types of cough and cold medicines. The TGA statement said there was “little evidence” that low-dose codeine medicines were “any more effective for pain relief or cough than similar medicines without the drug”.

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