Both the US and many European countries have already banned the sale of over the counter codeine products, and the UK has now followed their lead and decided to introduce a similar ban. The Therapeutic Goods Administration has announced the changes to regulation, which are due to be applied in pharmacies in February.
The rise in opioid dependence and the opioid crisis sweeping America, combined with the risk of overdose has led Consumer Health groups to the conclusion that they have no alternative but to ban these products without a prescription to protect the public.
However, one watchdog’s manager, Jo Root, said it has received some reports of consumers stockpiling products containing codeine ahead of the ban – sparking serious concerns among health professionals. “There is some evidence they are buying as many packets as they can get their hands on,” she said. “It’s not the outcome we wanted but it’s what happens when you give people notice of an impending ban.”
One group in Australia, “Pain Australia” is currently running a campaign opposing the ban, which it claims is ineffective. The group also claims that there are other alternative that would be more helpful and would better protect the public.
The chief executive of Pain Australia, Carol Bennett, said that the main message of their campaign is that “codeine is not particularly effective for long-term chronic pain. If you’re using codeine for longer than three days, that should be a wake-up call: what else do I need to be doing to manage my pain? One of the [issues] around codeine use is it does create a dependence … It’s very difficult if you’re reliant on codeine for pain relief. It’s scary to look for an alternative [patients] think won’t be effective.”
Although she said that they are less concerned about stockpiling, as the majority of drug companies in Australia have already stopped supplying codeine making them unavailable to the majority of the general public.
A spokesman for the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, Greg Turnbull, said “a lot of consumers are not happy about it at all”, with big spikes in complaints after media reports on the ban. Lots of people use codeine safely and appropriately to deal with migraines, toothache and period pain. A bureaucracy telling them ‘No, you can’t have that’ won’t be well received.”
He also noted that, according to data, the vast majority of consumers taking codeine products were using them safely, and although there is some evidence that some are abusing the drug, the rest of the population shouldn’t be punished. He said “The people who say they use it every week are exactly those who shouldn’t be, but the majority using it safely are not being taken into consideration.”