Diet & Nutrition

These standard pain killers may soon need doctors’ prescriptions

Medications containing codeine could no longer be available over the chemist counter but instead require a visit to your GP.

Another big push to stop any medicines containing codeine to be available without a doctor’s prescription is under way. This means common brands like Panadeine and Nurofen Plus will not be able to be purchased from the chemist without a visit to your GP first.
The Advertiser has reported that a new impact statement commissioned by the Department of Health is expected to trigger a new announcement on the prescription status of the medicines.
According to the report on Adelaide Now, the move to make codeine unavailable without a prescription has sparked a war between chemists, who profit from selling it, to doctors who say the pain medication is dangerous.
“Codeine is pretty much all risk with no benefit. It’s a lousy painkiller and when codeine is combined with say paracetamol or ibuprofen in over the counter products, it offers little, if any, additional pain relief,” said addiction medicine specialist Dr Hester Wilson.
The article contained some pretty damning statistics about codeine.
  • 460,000 Australians who use codeine-containing medicine suffer medication overuse headaches and can become dependent on it.
  • Just 10 days a month taking it can trigger a migraine
  • Codeine accounted for 155 deaths in 2009, up from 53 in 2000
  • 16.4 million purchases of over-the-counter codeine-containing painkillers each year in Australia, and a further 5.2 million of over-the-counter cold and flu medications containing codeine.
Codeine is part of a group of drugs known as opioids. Opioids are depressant drugs, which means they slow down the messages travelling between the brain and the rest of the body. Other opioids include opium, heroin and morphine.
It is also considered highly addictive – in fact it’s been described as “the middle class addiction” to which no one wants to admit.
Already to buy codeine over the counter many chemists require purchasers to provide ID – as with buying medicines containing pseudo-ephedrine.
But there are doctors and addiction specialists who say this measure does not go far enough. They say that the fact that these drugs are available over the counter makes consumers think that they must be safe.
Australia is one of only a few countries allowing the purchase of codeine-based medicines without a prescription. In some countries, such as the Maldives and the United Arab Emirates, possessing a codeine-based drug without an authenticated doctor’s prescription can potentially lead to deportation or imprisonment. In Greece, any amount of codeine is illegal. Travellers can only bring it into the country if they have a valid prescription.
An article on The Conversation last year had this advice for people worried they will suffer more if they cannot access codeine without a prescription: “The change will not disadvantage people in acute pain because newer medicines that combine paracetamol with ibuprofen provide better pain relief - without the risk of codeine addiction and its dire consequences.”

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