End of over-the-counter access to codeine medications approaches

Tenterfield Soul Pattinson pharmacist Adrian Ebbern said restrictions to codeine medications from February 1 should be manageable.
Tenterfield Soul Pattinson pharmacist Adrian Ebbern said restrictions to codeine medications from February 1 should be manageable.

Restricted access to medications containing codeine are imminent, but staff at Tenterfield Soul Pattinson Pharmacy have been laying the groundwork to ease the transition to the new regime.

From February 1 any product containing codeine can no longer be bought over the counter at pharmacies, having been up-scheduled to require a doctor’s prescription. Pharmacist Adrian Ebbern said that the changes aren’t as daunting as they may first appear, with a range of options available to those that rely on the affected medications.

“I know just about every customer who walks in here by name. The vast majority who are taking these medications containing codeine are also in regular contact with their doctor, so obtaining a script shouldn’t be an issue.”

Which of the familiar products that will remain available in the long term is uncertain as drug manufacturers assess the viability of continuing to supply products given the restricted access. In the meantime, however, there’s a six-month window where the codeine-containing products that used to be available over the counter will continue to be supplied, with a prescription.

The shake-up does present an opportunity for longtime users of these affected medications to reassess their dependence on them and to consider alternatives, with their doctor’s and pharmacist’s help.

Manufacturers of cough and cold medicines that used to contain codeine have preempted the change and brought out new formulas that are codeine-free. Mr Ebbern said there’s no solid evidence of the effectiveness of the low doses of codeine the superseded products contained anyway, so there will be little impact on this market segment.

Codeine’s pain-relieving properties, on the other hand, are relied upon by many with chronic pain, and its propensity to cause dependency and overuse (being a close relative of opium) is the reason the Therapeutic Goods Administration opted to tighten access.

Mr Ebbern said there’s a variety of non-prescription anti-inflammatory products available over the counter that may meet customers’ pain-relief needs. If these aren’t suitable due to conflict with other medications or medical conditions, there are more options to explore such as paracetamol products and holistic methods like rubs, braces and compression braces, or even physiotherapy or an exercise program.

“There are still fantastic products available,” Mr Ebbern said.

“Your first port-of-call is to ask at the pharmacy.”

He hasn’t seen any surge in demand for codeine products ahead of the change so doesn’t feel that people are stockpiling.

He is confident the up-scheduling of codeine products is not as scary as some may fear, given the same products are still available (for the short-term at least) just with a GP’s intervention, and there are alternatives available for those opting not to see a doctor.

“At the end of the day, both the pharmacist and the doctor are after the best health outcome for the person,” Mr Ebbern said.

“It will be the same as it’s always been. If we can’t treat a condition with over-the-counter products, we’ll refer you to a doctor.”

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