If you’re a regular user of Panadeine and Nurofen Plus, make a note to visit Chemist Warehouse ASAP. Following last year’s reclassification of codeine-based pain medications in Australia, they’ll be off the shelves from this Thursday onwards. You’ll need to visit a doctor and receive a prescription in order to buy them.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) decided to take codeine off the counter in late 2016, after finding that many Australians were using drugs like Panadeine to self-treat chronic pain conditions. At the time, the TGA said that there was "little evidence" low-dose codeine medicines were "any more effective for pain relief or cough than similar medicines without codeine". Codeine, an opioid, is considered by many medical professionals to be unsuitable for long term use. The sale of codeine is already restricted in the United States, as well as many European countries.
While its reclassification will be unwelcome news for many chronic pain sufferers, it’s true that codeine addiction is very real and potentially very harmful. The TGA left users more than a year in which to work out alternative treatment plans because realistically addicts will need to wean themselves off.
In 2016, VICE spoke to several young Australian codeine addicts who felt that access to the highly addictive pain meds should be restricted. According to the Medical Journal of Australia, Australia’s rate of codeine-related deaths more than doubled between 2000 and 2009—around 150 people per year.
Last year, a report from the National drug and Alcohol Research Centre revealed that the rate of accidental deaths due to pharmaceutical opioids is increasing rapidly in Australia, with hundreds dying from prescription painkiller overdoses each year. Almost 600 Australians between the ages of 15 and 54 died from accidental opioid overdoses in 2013, the most recent year that drug-related death statistics were recorded and finalised. For comparison, recorded ice-related deaths hover between 100-200 per year.
So what are the options for regular codeine users? Consult with a doctor, for one thing. It’s still a good treatment option for certain conditions. If you’re looking for over-the-counter solutions, anti-inflammatory painkillers like paracetamol might be your best bet—although again, these aren’t designed for long term use.