Codeine up-scheduling reduces patient harm

10 Oct 2019

Codeine overdoses in Australia have more than halved since the rescheduling of codeine to prescription-only, which banned over-the-counter sales of the painkiller early last year. Chair of the AMA Council of General Practice, Dr Richard Kidd, speaking on the reduction, said it was a “huge relief” to see this fall in codeine overdoses. Before the rescheduling of codeine, Dr Kidd said the addiction rate was nearing that recorded in the United States, and something had to be done about it.

As more Australians were dying from overdoses of codeine-containing medications, the AMA and other organisations advocated strongly for tighter regulations on codeine sales in the form of up-scheduling. The AMA’s advocacy on the issue has proved right and the Government has been vindicated for its strong decision.

A new study into the effect of rescheduling codeine found that since requiring a prescription from a doctor, the monthly rate of codeine overdoses have more than halved, as have the sales of codeine painkillers. Calls to the NSW Poisons Information Centre related to low-strength codeine medicine overdose also halved during the same period. 

“The problem with the codeine-containing compounds is that it was an insidious kind of entry into addiction without people even knowing it was happening. They were buying it over the counter, and they didn’t realise that the codeine was giving them a bit of a hit,” Dr Kidd told ABC News.

“And they were thinking that they were getting headaches or other pains and the codeine-containing compounds were helping, not knowing that as the codeine withdraws, it actually gives you a headache and can give you other pain.”

Dr Kidd highlighted that real-time prescription monitoring is still needed to prevent doctor shoppers, who due to their addiction, hop state borders to access extra prescriptions. Real-time prescription monitoring will identify patients who need more help with managing their addiction and chronic pain.

“Living with chronic pain, there are lots of options that a GP can help navigate a person through that can help them manage their pain and have a good quality of life,” Dr Kidd said.

Read the full transcript of Dr Kidd’s interview on ABC News 24 here.