SERVICE: Pharmacist John Black, front, with staff Christine Schipp and Min Lin behind him at McDonalds Pharmacy in Casino.
SERVICE: Pharmacist John Black, front, with staff Christine Schipp and Min Lin behind him at McDonalds Pharmacy in Casino. Susanna Freymark

New drug rules a real headache

CASINO pharmacist John Black is concerned about the restricted availability of codeine-based products for rural customers and the dumbing down of pharmacy services.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has ruled that over-the-counter sales of medications which have codeine in them will be illegal from February 2018 and only accessed through a doctor's prescription.

This includes the commonly used Panadeine, Codral cold tablets, Mersyndol and Nurofen.

The TGA's decision brings Australia into line with countries such as Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Greece, Iceland, India, Italy, Norway, Russia and Sweden. Canada is the most recent country to follow a similar path.

The reason is the misuse of codeine, says Royal Australian College of General Practitioners addiction specialist Dr Hester Wilson.

"There is a lot of misinformation out there regarding codeine,” Dr Wilson said.

"Codeine is actually a really lousy painkiller - it has a lot of risks but no benefit. Patients are misled if they think they are getting additional pain relief in over- the-counter products containing codeine.”

McDonalds Pharmacy's Mr Black said putting the onus back on busy doctors and forcing people to get prescriptions would clutter an already busy medical system.

"We feel confident through our four years training we can dispense codeine-based products to the community,” Mr Black said.

The Pharmacy Guild encourages its members to use MedsAssist, a computer program which tracks use of codeine-based medicines. MedsAssists prevents the misuse and over subscription of medicine by recording and monitoring the patient's purchases.

If MedsAssist was made compulsory for all NSW pharmacies, there would be no problem with people misusing codeine, Mr Black said.

The inconvenience for people who had travelled into town to get their medications to then have to visit the doctor for a prescription was unnecessary, Mr Black said.

"We did flu vaccines,” he said because it was easier for customers and he sees providing advice about codeine-based medicines and alternatives well within a pharmacist's training.

"Why go backwards when we can go forward?” he said.

Dr Wilson said patients needed better medical advice about using codeine and managing pain.

"Long-term codeine use has been shown to have a pain-sensitising effect in people who take it regularly for headaches, in the end making their pain worse. Why would we continue to put people at risk with something that is ineffective?” he said.

"Codeine-related deaths have more than doubled in Australia since 2000. There are much safer ways of lowering pain.”

The Pharmacy Guild wants the State Government to change the level of the codeine-based products so they can still be sold at a pharmacy. People who agree are urged to write to their local member for parliament.

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