Panic buying as codeine ban looms
WITH the Australia-wide ban on over-the-counter codeine products less than a month away, pain specialists are warning those who use drugs like Nurofen Plus to talk to doctors about how they'll manage pain in the future.
Anecdotal reports that people are panic-buying: stockpiling Panadeine, Nurofen Plus and Mersyndol ahead of the ban, which starts on February 1, appear to have confirmed the fears of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, which predicted the rush to stockpile as the deadline loomed.
The Guild had lobbied for exceptions to the scheduling restriction, which would mean pharmacists could continue to dispense the products, with a number of conditions and restrictions, but has now accepted that from February 1, the only access people will have to codeine products will be via a visit to the doctor to obtain a prescription.
As the clock winds down towards the over-the-counter ban, Australia's top pain medicine body has reminded patients there are alternative pain relief options.
The Dean of the Faculty of Pain Medicine (FPM) of the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists, Dr Chris Hayes, said it was important patients talk to their GPs and pain physicians about how best to manage pain and how the new codeine restrictions may affect them.
"Most people will be able to manage their short-term pain with a range of other, over the counter medicines that don't contain codeine," he said.
"But if you're at all unsure seek advice on what the most appropriate medicines and pain relief are best suited for you. There are many safer and more effective alternatives available that don't have the harmful side effects of low-dose codeine."
The combination of anti-inflammatory medication with paracetamol provides better pain relief for many types of acute pain without the risk of codeine addiction.
Meanwhile pharmacists are bracing for backlash when the reality hits home for consumers.
Some pharmacies have already used their available supplies, and as the ban draws closer, and more are told they need a prescription in future, many were already voicing their dissatisfaction.
Pharmacists across Australia have worked on education campaigns which will see people worried about needing codeine for pain relief directed to a GP.
Low-dose over-the-counter codeine, which is a weak opioid, has been found to be highly addictive, Dr Hayes said.
Nearly one in ten people are unable to metabolise it. When codeine is combined with paracetamol or anti-inflammatory drugs, overdose can lead to serious liver damage, stomach ulcers, renal failure and even death.
Dr Hayes said codeine is closely related to morphine and is a derivative of opium poppies.
"Codeine should not be used to treat a migraine or period pain. There are significant costs to the patient, their families, public health resources and the community when patients become addicted to codeine," he said.
"When exploring other alternative treatments it's good to be aware that unlike codeine, paracetamol and ibuprofen are not opioids and not addictive.
More than 25 countries including the US, Japan, France and Hong Kong have made codeine a prescription only medicine.