Fact check: Will the move to make codeine prescription-only save 100 lives a year?

Image - Fact check: Will the move to make codeine prescription-only save 100 lives a year?
Date Published:
23 Mar 2018

RMIT ABC Fact Check spoke to NDARC experts, Professor Michael Farrell and Amanda Roxburgh about the claim that up to 100 lives a year could be saved by making over-the-counter codeine products prescription-only.

Read the full article on RMIT ABC Fact Check.

The claim

Australians now need to visit a doctor to obtain codeine after the drug was taken off pharmacy shelves and made available only with a prescription.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has been a vocal supporter of the move.

Speaking to ABC Radio in January, Mr Hunt said advice from the Therapeutic Goods Administration was that "up to 100 lives a year could be saved" by making over-the-counter codeine products prescription-only. 

NSW Pharmacy Guild President, David Heffernan, strongly criticised the claim, saying he was not aware of any evidence to support it.

"If there is any data to back up such an overblown claim, those making the claims should produce it — but I doubt that they can because I do not believe it exists," Mr Heffernan said. 

Responding to Mr Heffernan, Adrian Reynolds, an associate professor from the Royal Australian College of Physicians, said there was a broad body of evidence that documents misuse, addiction and secondary harm caused by codeine and criticised Mr Heffernan for attempting to "discredit the data relating to mortality rates".

So, will the move to make codeine prescription-only save 100 lives a year?

RMIT ABC Fact Check investigates.