As of today, you can only buy codeine-based medicines in Australia with a prescription. The glorious days of being able to pick it up over-the-counter are gone. This means that painkillers and cold medicines like Panadeine, Nurofen Plus and Codral will need a prescription from your GP.
Australia joins 26 countries around the world – including the United States – which ban over-the-counter sales of codeine-based painkillers. Speaking to ABC Radio, Health Minister Greg Hunt claimed that the move was in response to the global opioid crisis:
We know around the world in many places there is an opioid crisis. Codeine is part of that family. In other countries, such as the United States and UK, the decision was taken long ago to put these opioids on a prescription basis.
The government and peak health bodies claim that up to 100 Australians die per year from overdoses directly linked to codeine.
Many pharmacies across the country report selling out of their codeine-based meds yesterday as people stocked up before the ban landed. People who deal with chronic pain and related illnesses who rely on codeine as a painkiller are understandably concerned – especially as there’s no way of telling how strict doctors will be on prescribing codeine medications.
Experts are warning Aussies that there are up to 153,000 people who use codeine at rates which may indicate dependence – which means that they might experience withdrawal symptoms if they can’t get their hands on codeine easily.
Speaking to The Age, psychologist Dr Tamsin Short claims that codeine withdrawals are a hidden problem. She says that many patients who attend her Medication Support and Recovery Service in Melbourne come with aches, cramps, nausea and insomnia.
But when our nurse sat down with them and did an assessment they discovered they are actually experiencing systems of [codeine] withdrawal.
Regardless of anything, it just became a lot tougher to get your hands on pain meds harder than your average paracetamol.