Its official, from 1st February 2018 all over-the-counter (OTC) medicines containing codeine became prescription only medications. It’s been one and half months since the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) announcement has come into effect and many customers have been left in the dark about why and how to access their regular medications in safe and controlled manner. This article will shed some light on the new law and its repercussions on Australian consumers.
First, off the bat, this change affects many commonly purchased medications which have become accustomed to such as (but limited to):
Panadeine, Panadeine Extra, Nurofen Plus, Mersyndol, Mersyndol Day Strength as well as generic branded combinations such as pain and calmative products.
There are also come cold and flu tablets affected but most have now adjusted their formulations removing the codeine involved in it whilst still keeping all other active ingredients we know and love eg. Codral Original, Demazin etc..
So Why Codeine?
Codeine is an opioid drug closely related to morphine and, like morphine is derived from opium poppies. As a result, codeine can cause opioid tolerance, dependence, addiction, poisoning and in high doses, death. An Australian study examining codeine-related deaths in a 10-year period from 2000 to 2009 found that deaths, where codeine was determined to be an underlying cause, had more than doubled from 3.5 per million to 8.7 per million.(1)
The main issues with codeine can be summarised below
1 - Tolerance: where higher and higher doses are needed to feel the same relief from symptoms, this leads to addiction and overdose.
2 - Withdrawal symptoms: where symptoms such as head and muscle aches, mood swings, insomnia, nausea and diarrhoea occur when the medicine is stopped. People can be confused by these symptoms and think they need to take the codeine-containing medicine for longer or in higher doses
Managing pain without codeine
Most people should be able to manage acute pain or cough and cold symptoms with safer medicines which are codeine free. For acute pain, this may include products containing paracetamol or ibuprofen, or the two products in combination such as Maxigesic. Voltaren Rapid is also a strong painkiller which remains available without a script.
Talk to your doctor
If you feel you need one of these products then visit your doctor to obtain a prescription. We note that some products have been discontinued whilst the rest are prescription only – Mersyndol, Nurofen Plus and Panadeine Extra (rebranded as Prodeine Extra) are all available on prescription now.
Support and Advice
The above is a brief overview of the new codeine laws in Australia which contains some general recommendations. We recommended talking to your pharmacist who will be able to provide specific advice on the most appropriate medicines for you.
You can take advantage of our website to chat online to one of our pharmacists, or submit your enquiry on our Ask the Pharmacist page or just call us directly on 1300 280 278 (local call cost Australia wide).
References1. Roxburgh A, Hall WD, Burns L, et al. Trends and characteristics of accidental and intentional codeine overdose deaths in Australia. Med J Aust 2015;203:299. [PubMed].