For many years, codeine has been readily used to treat pain or suppress coughing, and low doses are found in some painkillers, cough syrups and cold and flu tablets.
From 1 February 2018, medicines containing low-dose codeine will no longer be available without a prescription in pharmacies Australia wide. This decision was made by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) following several years of consideration.
The NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) supports the decision and contributed to a Nationally Coordinated Codeine Implementation Working Group of state and territory health professionals, led by the TGA.
The NSWNMA maintains the TGA’s decision is based on sound medical evidence and has been made in the interests of enhancing public health.
Nurses working in emergency departments across NSW will continue to encourage patients who present with symptoms of chronic pain or side effects of withdrawal to consult their general practitioner.
Doctors can help determine ongoing treatment options, including alternative over-the-counter or prescription medicines; non-medicine therapies such as a physiotherapist; exercise or relaxation; or referral to a pain specialist or pain management clinic.
Codeine is an opioid drug closely related to morphine. Regular use, for example for chronic pain, has led to some consumers becoming addicted to codeine and therefore requiring the oversight of a doctor.
Pharmacists will also still be able to help people choose from a range of effective alternative products that do not require a prescription to manage any acute pain or cough and cold symptoms.
Nurses and midwives have a professional obligation to ensure all patients receive the necessary support during this transition off codeine products. The NSWNMA will therefore continue efforts in advocating for accessible, quality health care in Australia.
Nurses and midwives, including those with prescribing authority, can obtain further information from the TGA here.