National Rural Health Alliance backs codeine-based drugs ban

The National Rural Health Alliance has backed the law to restrict the supply of codeine-based drugs to prescription-only.

Medication that contains codeine including Codral for cold and flu, painkillers like Nurofen Plus and Mersyndol for period pain are now only available by going to the doctor and obtaining a prescription.

The National Rural Health Alliance, Australia’s peak non-government organisation for rural and remote health, recently released the results of a survey that found out-of-pocket medical expenses for some country people amounted to thousands of dollars a year.

The alliance’s chief executive officer Mark Diamond said people in regional areas faced long waits and had limited treatment options.

Mr Diamond said even though rural patients had less access to bulk-billed services, and seeking specialist treatments was complicated by distance and cost they still back the ban.

“The Alliance knows that some country people use codeine-containing medicines, and now have to visit a doctor for a prescription," he said.

"But the harms and risks associated with codeine are high. 

“It’s made from poppies and is related to morphine.  People using medicines containing codeine for chronic pain have become addicted without even knowing it. 

“We believe a doctor needs to weigh up the risk versus the benefit.”

But Dubbo pharmacist Greg Shearing said the decision had hit consumers with a double impact of higher cost and less available product.

"People who would normally come to us for relief from a simple cold now have to go to the doctor, so there is that expense but also the manufacturers of the product have put up the price,” he said.

“There is now a stock shortage that has resulted from this decision; the pharmacy is purchasing less of the product because less is being sold, so the consumer has been hit with a double whammy.”