Australia’s love affair with codeine curbed

Switching the painkiller codeine to a prescription-only medicine has led to a 50 per cent drop in overdoses and sales.

A study published in the journal Addiction by researchers from the University of Sydney also debunks fears that making codeine only available on prescription would lead to people misusing stronger painkillers.

The study found that following the 2018 switch there was no increase in overdoses with stronger opioids or high-strength codeine, as some had feared.

The researchers point out the widespread use of codeine in Australia prior to 2018.

“Australia has a love affair with codeine. It has historically been our most-used opioid, and 2013 data showed we took more codeine as a country than the USA, despite having roughly seven per cent of the population,” the researchers wrote in the online journal The Conversation.

“The 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey reported codeine available from behind the counter at a pharmacy was 
the most misused legal opioid in Australia and misuse was particularly common in adolescents.”

The researchers argue that limiting the availability of codeine works.

“Prescription drug misuse and overdoses are problems that are very much driven by drug availability. And when the availability of other medicines in Australia and internationally have been restricted, we’ve seen the benefits, namely reductions in misuse and poisoning,” they said.