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NDARC expert informs codeine prescription debate

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Date Published:
11 Jul 2016
Contact person:
Marion Downey
(02) 9385 0180

With a decision on codeine rescheduling imminent, NDARC’s Suzanne Nielsen spoke to ABC Life Matters about codeine dependence and treatment options.

Last year the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) recommended the rescheduling of codeine products as prescription only to combat rising rates of dependence and other health risks associated with the opioid.

The TGA originally recommended taking codeine off the shelves by June 2016. However, the decision has been deferred due to a large number of submissions. With the June deadline now passed, NDARC early career researcher Dr Suzanne Nielsen, whose work focuses on identifying and responding to prescription and over-the-counter drug related problems, spoke to the ABC about the issue.

Dr Nielsen told Ellen Fanning presenter of Life Matters on 5 July that codeine dependence is a growing problem in Australia.

NDARC research has found that the number of Australians receiving treatment for codeine dependence has trebled in the nine years from 2002.

Dr Nielsen commented that it is not uncommon for codeine-dependent individuals to take 90 to 100 tablets of over-the-counter painkillers daily.

“If you think about the amount of either paracetamol or ibuprofen – the simple analgesics that are combined with codeine – [90 to 100 tablets] are massive doses that are very damaging to the body,” she said.

Dr Nielsen also raised the limitations of Australia’s health services in treating codeine dependence.

“We need to upskill our health services to be able to respond to those people’s needs,” she added.

Another NDARC study shows that codeine-related deaths more than doubled in Australia between 2000 and 2009, with a jump from 3.5 to 8.7 deaths per million population. The number of deaths due to accidental codeine overdose also increased significantly, with a 9.3 per cent rise recorded each year.

Listen to the full interview here.