Opioid addiction is an international and Australian health challenge, therefore the Turnbull Government is providing over $1 million to ensure health practitioners and consumers are informed about changes to accessing codeine-containing medicines.
From 1 February next year, medicines containing codeine will no longer be available over-the-counter and will instead require a prescription from a doctor.
I have listened carefully to calls from State Health Ministers, consumer and medical groups for more support and this funding announced today will ensure health professionals and consumers have the information they need.
Moving codeine to script only was the unanimous recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Medicines Scheduling, which is made up of Chief Pharmacists and Chief Health Officers in States and Territories.
The Advisory Committee on Medicines Scheduling made two separate recommendations to reschedule codeine in August 2015 and March 2016. The Advisory Committee on the Safety of Medicines also made the same recommendation in March 2016.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration implemented this advice and on 20 December 2016 announced that over-the-counter medicines containing codeine will become prescription only from 1 February, 2018.
The final implementation of this scheduling is a matter for each State and Territory as to whether they adopt the decision in their own jurisdiction.
Medical authorities have, however, advised these changes will save lives and protect lives.
Over-the-counter codeine products have been estimated to be a factor in nearly 100 deaths each year, with evidence that three in four pain-killer misusers had misused an over-the-counter codeine product in the last 12 months.
These changes are also in-line with international practice, with at least 26 countries only allowing prescription access to codeine based products.
These include the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Austria, Belgium, Hong Kong, Iceland, India, the Maldives, Romania, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal and Slovakia.
It also has widespread support from the medical sector – including the Australian Medical Association, Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Royal Australian College of Physicians and consumer groups.
Research shows that current over-the-counter low-dose medicines containing codeine for pain relief offer very little additional benefit when compared to similar medicines without codeine.
Regular use of medicines containing codeine, for example for chronic pain, has led to some consumers becoming addicted to codeine without realising it.
Health professionals and consumers need objective, accurate information about the upcoming changes, the risks associated with codeine, other options for safe and effective pain management, and treatment pathways for people who may have become dependent on codeine products.
To ensure this information is available, the Turnbull Government is funding peak GP and specialist groups, particularly those in rural and remote areas, to ensure all health professionals have the information they need.
These include the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, the Royal Australian College of Physicians, the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine and the Australian Medical Association.
We are also funding public and information via the Pharmacy Guild of Australia and the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.
I would like to thank the Pharmacy Guild and the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia for their commitment to working with their members to assist patients during this transition.
We are also funding Painaustralia, supported by the Consumer Health Forum, to develop and implement a dedicated strategy for people suffering acute pain, and other consumers of codeine-containing medicines.
These peak groups will partner together in an integrated communication effort on the changes to scheduling of codeine-containing medicines.
A Nationally Coordinated Codeine Implementation Working Group (NCCIWG) was established early this year with representatives from Commonwealth, state and territory health departments and peak professional bodies representing medical professionals, consumers and pharmacists.
The funding announced today will build on this work and provide further education resources in the lead up to the scheduling change on 1 February 2018.
For more information, visit the codeine information hub on the Therapeutic Goods Administration website.
Summary of funding allocation
Support the Pharmacy Guild and Pharmaceutical Society of Australia to provide pharmacists with materials to assist consumers with the transition
Support for the AMA, RACGP, RACP working with NPS MedicineWise to provide communication material to GPs and specialists
Support ACRRM, RDAA and Rural Health Alliance to provide targeted communications to health providers in rural and remote communities
Support for Painaustralia to communicate with consumers and people suffering chronic and acute pain
Development of targeted communication products and forums to communicate to Indigenous and Aged Care Providers