Codeine prescription change could cause further pain

The Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA) has announced that from February 1, medicines containing codeine will no longer be available without a prescription.

A locum pharmacist working at a Far South Coast pharmacy claimed these changes could have wide ranging impacts.

Codeine is an opiate and is used to treat a variety of conditions including mild, moderate and severe pain. Pharmacies stock low-dose over the counter medicines containing codeine that are often purchased to alleviate aches and pains.

“Pain relief is a non-stop question,” said the locum pharmacist, who explained that a vast majority of her clients come to her asking for advice about pain management.

She said that with an ageing population and people working longer, more health issues are arising that may require pain relief. 

“With older people there is an increase in arthritis and other age related conditions, and for those in the workforce, back pain and other related aches are becoming more prevalent.

“When it comes to pain, there is a high degree of dependence across the board, and today people seem to have a lower tolerance to pain,” she said.

After February 1, people seeking low dose medicines containing codeine will need to acquire a prescription from their GP or other health professionals with prescribing authority.

The locum pharmacist is concerned that people could wait, days and sometimes weeks to receive relief from their pain due to GP wait times. After February 1, you will need to ring your GP, book an appointment and wait, she explained. 

She was also concerned with the alternatives available to customers who seek pain relief after February 1. One of these alternatives, Nurofen, can have serious side effects.

“Nurofen can elevate blood pressure, irritate the stomach causing ulcers, and led to the retention of fluid around the kidneys”, she said.

The use of codeine, particularly for chronic pain, has led to addiction among some consumers. The TGA   stated “the risks associated with codeine use are too high without oversight from a doctor”. 

When asked if she had concerns about codeine dependence, the locum said she had not witnessed this in her time at the pharmacy.

“Besides, pharmacists are educated enough to handle conservative doses of codeine,” she said.  

The Rural Doctors Association (RDAA) said the changes in codeine will be beneficial for patients.

“If the codeine upscheduling prompts these people to visit their doctor or review their medication with their pharmacist, it will allow assessment and better treatment and management of their underlying condition,” RDAA president Dr Coltzau said.

The TGA has provided resources for practitioners to help with the changes that will take effect on February 1. The Australian Pharmacy Guild is also preparing pharmacists and pharmacy assistants to ensure the transition is a smooth as possible.

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