By Ross Walker

A recent report from the Medical Journal of Australia looked at the number of codeine related deaths in Australia. Very disturbingly, over a nine year period, Codeine associated fatalities increased from 53 in 2000 to more than 155 in 2009.

Most deaths were related to the fatal combination of codeine with a variety of other drugs, typically benzodiazepines, paracetamol, ibuprofen, antidepressants and alcohol. Just under half the deaths were accidental, usually in people with a history of substance abuse or chronic pain, the intentional overdoses more likely in older women, especially with a prior history of mental illness.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has recently proposed that as of June 2016, all codeine related products should be prescription only. The AMA has expressed doubts over whether this would be effective in reducing the significant issues we are currently experiencing with codeine related products, and, understandably, the Pharmacy Guild is against this move, which would usurp the pharmacists current key role in dispensing these commonly used treatments.

It is my opinion that making codeine related products prescription only has little value.

All it would do is overload an already overloaded medical system, driving people with minor to moderate pain away from the pharmacy to the doctor, often delaying pain and other symptom relief for sometimes hours, whilst the person undergoes the inconvenience of making what would be an unnecessary appointment and then waiting to see the doctor.

There will always be people who fall through the cracks in any system, regardless of more rigid rules created by governments, and people who abuse the system will usually find ways around the rules, typically to their peril.

I believe that this is a classic example of the wonderful quote: “Always the needs of the many outweigh the needs of a few”.