Doctors and pharmacists are at odds over a plan to make Australians get prescriptions for common pain killers currently available over the counter.
Patient advocate Dorothy Kamaker is no stranger to dealing with medical emergencies.
The health care specialist deals with them through her clients on a daily basis.
She says codeine-related issues are more prominent than most people realise.
“In the last few months I've seen three clients for whom the problem was fundamentally codeine, overdose or misusage or abuse,” Mrs Kamaker said.
Contained in most common painkillers, Dorothy wants codeine off the shelves and behind the counter.
“I think it has to come off the shelves I think there's a patient safety issue.”
The Therapeutic Goods Administration says addiction and other risks posed by codeine products are serious enough to warrant the drug becoming a prescription-only medication.
It says the abuse of codeine is on the rise in Australia, and it can also cause severe adverse reactions and is not as safe as other over-the-counter products.
It's recommended close to 150 codeine products to no longer be over-the-counter medicine from next June.
In its interim report, the TGA noted codeine's "relative lack of efficacy compared to safer products", and the growing body of evidence of its rise as an abused substance in Australia.
“Too many Australians are dying or suffering serious harm as a result of misuse of medication such as codeine,” said Dr Steven Parness from the Australian Medical Association.
But Angelo Pricolo from the Pharmacy Guild of Australia says that will do more harm than good.
“It is going to be a much bigger burden for them to see a doctor, and it's going to be a more expensive and bigger burden on the health system as well,” Mr Pricolo said.
His view echoed by Steve Scarff from the Australian Self Medication Industry
“I think this is a very blunt instrument to what is a very complex problem,” he said.
Pharmacists believe just stopping people from picking up medicine on the shelves containing codeine won't be effective in the long run.
They say there are more practical measures like a monitoring system will make people think twice before popping too many tablets
“That would allow us to monitor the use of people's codeine containing preparations,” said Lachlan Rose from Australia’s Pharmaceutical Society
Other recommendations include adding a warning label to codeine products, however the TGA has ruled that out – saying “it will not adequately address the problem of misuse and dependence”.
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