Central Victorian health services prepare for codeine change

Medications such as these will be available by prescription only soon. Picture: SIMONE DE PEAK
Medications such as these will be available by prescription only soon. Picture: SIMONE DE PEAK

Health services are putting plans in place to manage a potential increase in people seeking help once codeine-based medications become prescription-only next month.

From February 1, any medication containing codeine will require a prescription to obtain.

Ben Cooper, drug and alcohol team manager at Bendigo Community Health Services, said the service believed it might see an increase in referrals come February.

“It’s a bit of a hidden addiction… Some people might not realise they have a dependence until they can’t get it over the counter,” Mr Cooper said.

But he said the size of growth in referrals was difficult to estimate until the changes came into play.

Mr Cooper said people who took codeine should speak to their doctor about the issue they had been taking the medication for, to determine another course of management.

He said some people might be referred to a pain specialist.

It’s a bit of a hidden addiction… Some people might not realise they have a dependence until they can’t get it over the counter.

Ben Cooper, Bendigo Community Health Services drug and alcohol team manager

BCHS also offers services to assist people who might have a codeine dependency, including opiate replacement therapies.

Research had shown codeine in lower doses had little to no extra effect, Mr Cooper said, and other medications such as ibuprofen and paracetamol were enough.

Last year, head of advocacy group Painaustralia Carol Bennett said codeine was not appropriate for those suffering chronic pain.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration says the opiate was becoming prescription-only because of the risk of increasing tolerance or dependence among users, and the risk of poisoning from other medications the codeine is combined with, such as ibuprofen and paracetamol.

Common medications that will be affected include Nurofen Plus, Panadeine and Codral.

Mr Cooper advises anyone looking for information to call the counselling and information service DirectLine on 1800 888 236. For referrals to the BCHS services, call ACSO on 1300 022 760.