Code for users will need a prescription

November 05, 2017

ECHUCA-MOAMA codeine users will need a prescription to access the painkiller from next year if the Therapeutic Good Administration (TGA) has its way.

The changes on February 1 will see codeine products like Nurofen Plus, Panadeine, Mersyndol and Codral ‘upscheduled’, meaning people who use the products for health issues like back pain, migraines, period pain, dental pain or cold and flu will have to go to the doctor to get access to them.

The codeine crackdown was introduced over fears the highly addictive painkillers are being abused leading to ongoing dependence and death.

Echuca-Moama GP Suzanne Harrison said while the theory was good, she was not sure the execution had been thought through, which may result in some issues for health professionals and patients.

‘‘Both prescription and over-the-counter opiates have been identified as an issue as far as abuse and many more deaths have resulted from these drugs than from illicit drugs,’’ she said.

‘‘Real-time prescription monitoring (RTPM) will help with identifying these patients.

‘‘However, the biggest issues are funding and training of health professionals to deal with addiction issues and chronic pain management, both of which are seriously lacking in rural areas.

‘‘I do not believe this has been significantly addressed, although I am aware there is a small amount of funding associated with RTPM implementation for some upskilling, but we do have to have the doctors/allied health staff on the ground first.’’

The Federal Government is now under pressure to ditch the crackdown and rework key elements of the controversial policy.

Last month, health ministers from all states and territories — except for South Australia — signed a letter to federal Health Minister Greg Hunt requesting answers.

‘‘There is concern this will be felt particularly acutely in rural and regional areas where access to GPs is already low and that some people managing chronic conditions with codeine medications will deteriorate as they abandon medication due to the out-of-pocket expenses associated with accessing GPs for their prescription,’’ the letter said.

The Victorian Government recently passed legislation to allow a mandatory prescription monitoring system to roll out by 2018.

The Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment (Real-time Prescription Monitoring) Bill 2017, which passed Victorian Parliament on October 12, establishes the state’s own mandatory real-time prescription monitoring system – to be known as SafeScript.

SafeScript will provide doctors, nurse practitioners and pharmacists access to an up-to-the-minute database to review prescription histories of patients in their care.

Moama Village Pharmacy pharmacist Clint Flanigan said this would help to minimise ongoing medication misuse.

‘‘We have been utilising real-time monitoring to identify clients who are over-using,’’ he said.

However, with the ban on codeine looming, Mr Flanigan urged people who used opioid medicines for pain management to discuss their options with the GP as soon as possible, so ‘‘it is not a hard and sharp change’’.

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