Australia bans codeine-based medicines to be sold over the counter

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A range of medicines that contain low-dose codeine will no longer be available across Australia without prescription in pharmacies starting February 1, 2018. The change seeks to curb codeine addiction and misuse.

The drug has been moved from Schedule 2 and 3 to Schedule 4 (prescription only). This means Australians who need Panadeine and Nurofen Plus are required to get a script from a GP before they will be allowed to make a purchase.

Panadeine Extra, Nurofen Plus, Mersyndol, Panafen Plus, Codis, Dispirin Forte, Aspalgin and some pharmacy generic pain relief products are also affected since these medicines contain codeine, Herald Sun reports. The change also involves some cough, cold and flu products. These include Codral Original Cold & Flu, Demazin Day & Night Cold & Flu.

The decision over prescription drugs was made by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). The independence of the TGA in making decisions about medicines scheduling, including for codeine, is fully supported by Australian Medical Association President (AMA) Dr Michael Gannon.

Alternatives

Alternative over-the-counter painkillers will be available to those dealing with short-term pain. These alternatives are seen to be more effective compared to low-dose codeine but without codeine-associated risks.

Maxigesic, Nuromol and Mersynofen are alternative brands on the market. Patients who use codeine to manage chronic pain can make an appointment with a GP to discuss alternative treatment plans. Bartone told News Corp that those dealing with acute pain should have a conversation with someone.

As suggested by medical research, over-the-counter low-dose (< 30 mg) codeine-containing products offer little additional pain relief compared to medicines without codeine. Gannon said there is no proof that low-dose codeine provides any benefit beyond placebo.

Curbing Australia’s misuse and abuse of codeine

A research has found that the rate of codeine-related deaths in the country has grown more than double between 2000 and 2009. According to Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt, up to a hundred lives per year can be saved when codeine is taken off store shelves.

AMA Vice President Dr Tony Bartone said that low doses of codeine are ineffectual. He recognised TGA’s role to protect the public and ensure that all medications are safe.

Manufacturing a medicine does not mean it can be offered over-the-counter, Bartone said. He added that the TGA must ensure that all products have a therapeutic guideline regarding when and where to use them as well as the safe ways to use them.