Doctors miss the point on codeine

Media Release

Date: 28 September 2017

The statement today from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians supporting the upscheduling of medicines containing low doses of codeine is remarkable for its omission of any reference to the need for real time recording and reporting of prescription drugs.

The National President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, George Tambassis, said that throughout the debate over the upscheduling of medicines containing codeine, doctor groups had avoided addressing the issue of real-time recording and reporting.

“According to the Penington Institute, between 2008 and 2014 Australia experienced an 87 per cent increase in prescription opioid deaths, with the increase in rural regional Australia a shocking 148 per cent,” Mr Tambassis said.

New data from the Bureau of Statistics released this week showed almost 70 per cent of drug-related deaths in Australia in 2016 were a result of prescription drug abuse.

“Despite this the medical profession has done little or nothing to bring about a national real time recording and reporting system.”

Mr Tambassis said the Pharmacy Guild, recognising the reality that some patients misuse over-the-counter medicines containing codeine, introduced the MedsASSIST system in 2016 to record and report on usage.

“So far more than 4,000 pharmacies – or more than 70 per cent of all PBS-approved pharmacies - are voluntarily using MedsASSIST,” Mr Tambassis said.

Around 9 million transactions have been recorded by MedsASSIST, with a sharp reduction in codeine sales, and referrals of thousands of patients for further pain management.

“There is no dispute that overuse and dependence on these codeine containing medicines can cause harm or fatalities. The question is how best to address it – and shifting medicines to prescription only is demonstrably a flawed solution,” Mr Tambassis said.

The Guild is proposing a limited exception to the upscheduling of these medicines to allow pharmacists to supply them under strict protocols and with mandatory real time recording for the benefit and pain relief of patients using the medicines safely and appropriately. Doctors want to shift to a prescription only regime with no monitoring and a demonstrated track record of doctor shopping, abuse and harm.   

“Doctors need to embrace real time reporting and recording of prescription drugs so that we can reduce the horrendous number of deaths from drugs prescribe by doctors,” Mr Tambassis said.

“Let’s get real about our commitment to protecting Australians from opioid misuse.

“Increasing prescriptions without a real time recording and reporting system can only exacerbate the problem.”

Contact: Greg Turnbull
Phone: 0412 910 261

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Page last updated 30 August 2018