National Party and Pharmacy Guild call for reversal on over the counter codeine changes

Reversal: NSW Pharmacy Guild president John Heffernan and deputy premier John Barilaro have called for a reversal to new over-the-counter codeine sale laws in NSW.
Reversal: NSW Pharmacy Guild president John Heffernan and deputy premier John Barilaro have called for a reversal to new over-the-counter codeine sale laws in NSW.

A packet of Nurofen Plus or Panadeine might soon cost more than $80 including a trip to the GP, under the federal government’s new plan to up-schedule current over-the-counter codeine pain medication.

On Thursday, deputy premier John Barilaro joined NSW Pharmacy Guild president David Heffernan to announce that the National Party will be backing a reversal on the up-scheduling, particularly in rural and regional areas of the state.

While the new legislation, commencing February 1 next year, will require a prescription for all medication containing codeine, the Pharmacy Guild is lobbying for a “prescription only – except when” system, while maintaining its real-time Medsassist statewide monitoring service.

That system would allow the pharmacist to make exceptions for people who need extra pain relief for acute problems, such as tooth aches, sprains, period pain, broken fingers, and other ailments that don’t truly require a trip to the GP or emergency department.

“The upscheduling will increase cost and inconvenience for patients who currently use these over-the-counter medicines safely and appropriately – It will clog up doctors’ surgeries, while offering no solution to the problem of doctor shopping for prescription medicines – the overwhelming cause of codeine-related deaths in Australia,” Mr Heffernan said.

In some rural areas, a GP appointment has to be made weeks in advance, while there are fears that already over-burdened emergency departments will even further congest.

Locally, Gunnedah and Narrabri Pharmacist, and incumbent Pharmacy Guild Branch Committee member Karen Carter agrees.

“Emergency department’s and GP’s time are already needed for other things, while it would put a lot of pressure on one doctor towns,” Mrs Carter said. Up-scheduling will increase the cost of Medicare due to more GP visits. A $6 dollar sale becomes at least a $36 Medicare cost. The inconvenience will increase costs to patients who go to private GP's with much higher out of pocket costs.”

Mrs Carter also believes that keeping codeine sales in the hands of the pharmacist will be safer, due to the Guild backed Medsassist system.

“Doctors have no real-time monitoring system. There will be no supervision of codeine overuse or doctor shopping if the change occurs.”