Doctors pen open letter on codeine battle

Medication containing codeine will be available only with a prescription from February. (AAP)

Medical experts have written to health ministers reminding them of the dangers of codeine overuse, as the Pharmacy Guild of Australia continues to lobby.

Doctors have reinforced the potentially deadly impact of codeine overuse, as pharmacists deny putting commercial interests ahead of patient safety.

In an open letter to health ministers, medical and health consumer advocates warn codeine is not an effective treatment of chronic pain and overuse can lead to death.

The letter has been written in response to reported lobbying by the Pharmacy Guild of Australia to alter a decision made by the Therapeutic Good's Administration to make codeine containing medication drugs prescription only from February.

It's understood the guild is pushing for an alternative model to enable pharmacists to dispense non-prescription codeine for acute pain, especially in rural areas.

Australia's leading doctors have accused the Guild of putting profits ahead of patient safety.

"The Guild's proposed alternative model carries a serious risk of increased harms and potentially preventable deaths and cannot be support by the medical community or consumer advocates," the letter states.

The letter goes on to say: "We would be seriously concerned if the Guild's lobbying of state and territory governments included any suggestion that individual jurisdictions create exemptions that would be tantamount to walking away from nationally consistent regulation of medicines in this country."

Signatories on the letter include: Carol Bennett, CEO of Pain Australia; Dr Bastian Seidel, President of the RACGP; and Dr Catherine Yelland, President of the RACP.

The Guild has rejected the claims it's putting commercial interests ahead of patients.

It says rather than the continuing mud-slinging, the AMA and RACCP need to take responsibility for the very real patient issues that doctors will face from February when these medications become prescription only.

"It is indisputable that there will be a very large increase in GP visits from 1 February by patients who are seeking prescriptions for these medicines and advice in relation to the treatment of their pain," the Guild said in a statement.

"The Guild respectfully requests that doctor groups stop hurling abuse and playing political games, and focus their efforts on addressing these very real and urgent patient issues."

Last week, the Australian medical Association president Dr Michael Gannon condemned the Pharmacy Guild of Australia for its "irresponsible and unprincipled" lobbying of state and territory governments to undermine the ruling by the TGA.

"It is essential for public safety that the TGA makes evidence-based decisions about medicines, free from political interference and sectional interests," Dr Gannon said.

Pain expert Dr Chris Hayes, Dean of the Faculty of Pain Medicine (FPM), says anti-inflammatory drugs or paracetamol provide better pain relief without the risk of codeine addiction.

"For acute pain most of the studies show that the combination of paracetamol and anti-inflammatories works as well, if not better, and without the risks of codeine," Dr Hayes told AAP.

"In the chronic pain situation, codeine doesn't work well anyway," he added.

Source AAP

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