'Panic buying' as codeine ban looms

Published: 28 January 2018


Pain sufferers who won’t be able to purchase over-the-counter codeine medication have taken to stockpiling the medication, to beat the February 1 deadline that will see the drug become prescription only.

From Thursday onwards, products including Nurofen Plus, Panadeine, and Mersyndol will be banned for sale across the counter without prescription.

The move comes after the Federal Government took codeine off pharmacy shelves, after an expert panel ruled it was the best way to protect the public.

According to Australia's Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy, the decision is based on safety and a way to reduce addiction.

“There are numerous studies that show that codeine is not the miracle pain relief drug that people think it is and there is compelling evidence of harm caused by overuse and abuse of over the counter codeine-containing medicines," he said.

Pharmacists around the country initially fought the decision, lobbying for exceptions to the new scheduling, saying that real-time prescribing is needed.

"Our view is that the decision put forward is a very blunt a very broad brush approach to the problem and I think we would have liked to have seen the opportunity for more targeted measures," said Australian Self Medication Industry chief executive, Deon Schoombie.

"Nobody disputes the fact that there are risks associated with products that have codeine…but the vast majority of people who've been using these products use it appropriately."

It is believed that an estimated half a million Australians misuse over-the-counter codeine medications and up to 100 people die each year from overdose and abuse.

"It is a very real and increasing problem,” said Professor Murphy.

Figures also suggest the problem has been getting worse in recent years, with 2015 data showing a fourfold increase in Australians seeking help at drug clinics for codeine addiction.

Director of the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction at Flinders University, Professor Ann Roche, said that while codeine could cause severe damage it was an opioid and addictive that was most damaging.

“Codeine is an opioid drug closely related to morphine and, like morphine, is derived from opium poppies. Codeine can cause opioid poisoning and in high doses, death.

“Regular use of medicines containing codeine, for example for persistent non-cancer pain, has led to some consumers becoming dependent on codeine without realising it”.

Pain specialists are warning that those who use drugs like Nurofen Plus need to talk to doctors about how they’ll manage pain in the future.

Patients are also being reminded that there are alternative pain relief options.