Codeine supply continues to flow

A recent survey has shown most people seeking codeine from their doctor are not being offered or advised about alternatives.

The survey followed changes the Federal Government made to regulations in February that tightened access to the painkillers by making all codeine products available only with a doctor's prescription.

Commissioned by AFT Pharmaceuticals, it revealed almost everyone who’d been to a doctor for a codeine prescription was continuing to receive the drug in some form.

Sixty-five per cent were still taking the same codeine product and 33 per cent were taking a different or stronger codeine-based drug.

Pharmacologist and CEO of AFT Pharmaceuticals Dr Hartley Atkinson said the survey of more than 200 people who, pre-February, were codeine buyers raised questions about whether Australia was moving in the right direction regarding the appropriate use of opioids for pain.

“The survey showed fewer people have switched to alternatives than anticipated,” Dr Atkinson said. “A significant proportion have gone to the doctor for continued codeine (28%) and others (18%) have stockpiled over-the-counter codeine products before the change.

“The survey also showed long-term pain sufferers were less likely to have switched to a non-codeine drug.

“It’s troubling because in such people there’s little evidence for effectiveness and a higher risk of dependence and side effects. Consumers need to be aware of the significant risks and dangers.

“It begs the question, given the reasons for rescheduling over-the-counter analgesics, are consumers getting appropriate advice about their use of pain relief?”

The survey showed:

  • The primary factors for consumers in choosing pain relief were strength and speed (overall efficacy).
  • 18% of those surveyed stockpiled codeine and would have to find an alternative in coming months.
  • 28% of patients were going to doctors for codeine despite the reason for rescheduling being its limited efficacy and potential for harm. Two thirds of these patients were taking the same codeine pain relief they were previously and one third were obtaining a different or stronger form of codeine for pain relief from their doctor.
  • 80% said their doctor did not suggest an alternative pain killer that did not contain codeine.
  • While 67% of those surveyed only required short-term pain relief for issues such as headache and period pain, doctors continued to provide codeine.

“People are looking for trusted advice about codeine alternatives for their pain relief, whether they are doing their own research online, going to their pharmacy or even their supermarket,” Dr Atkinson said.

“If going to see their GP, it’s important for consumers to ask about non-opioid alternatives, and the efficacy and risks of codeine.

“However, not everyone wants or needs to pay for a doctor’s visit.

“Pharmacies offer effective non-opioid alternatives for the short-term, acute pain that most consumers are seeking relief from.

“In the survey results, pharmacists and pharmacy staff were shown to be the most influential combined source of professional advice for people who had switched to non-codeine alternatives and the largest proportion of respondents (34%) sought an alternative from a pharmacy.

“Ultimately, it’s important that we head down the right path post-codeine rescheduling.

Consumers need to be empowered to ensure they are seeking advice and asking the right questions to find the best pain relief alternatives for their needs.”

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