Codeine ban’s side effects – what will it mean for you?

CONCERN: Ballarat's Dorothy Krajewski, who operates Ballarat VA administration services from home, has chronic migraines. She fears for the stigma on codeine users.   Picture: Jeremy Bannister
CONCERN: Ballarat's Dorothy Krajewski, who operates Ballarat VA administration services from home, has chronic migraines. She fears for the stigma on codeine users. Picture: Jeremy Bannister

NOW is the time to review personal pain management, a pharmacotherapy expert says, as the publicly criticised block on over-the-counter codeine medication takes effect.

The long-flagged crackdown from the Therapeutic Goods Administration starts Thursday, making access to painkillers like Nurofen Plus and Panadeine prescription only in a bid to curb addiction and misuse.

Ballarat Community Health pharmacotherapy and harm reduction manager Jacqueline Keevins said personal uses for codeine products were so varied and should not be relied on as first-line treatment. Uses can include period pain, headaches and colds.

Ms Keevins urged those most concerned about the ban to speak to a pharmacist or general practitioner to explore their options, because whether you agreed or not, the ban would happen.

“This is a really good chance to explore what’s really going on (with you) with a GP,” Ms Keevins said.

“We know people aren’t particularly happy with the change, but its for good reasons and health harms. People have been treating legitimate health concerns they have, but should review that with a GP.”

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt insisted the move to take codeine off shelves would save 100 Australian lives from misuse this year. The ban brings Australia in line with the United Kingdom, United States, Japan.

Ballarat’s Dorothy Krajewski, who is self-employed, has experienced migraines since she was seven years old and still suffers daily headaches.

She uses drugs to help prevent her stress symptoms but says a codeine-based painkiller is the only drug she has used to help keep her functioning with a migraine.

Ms Krajewski has a script from her doctor for codeine but was concerned about the growing stigma on users.

“(Constant headaches) are exhausting. It means I don’t get as much done as I’d like,” Ms Krajewski said. “I’ve still got to look after the kids and my business, but sometimes I’ve just got to go to bed.”

Her concern comes as new research flagged eight in 10 Victorians were living with “invisible illness” like head or back aches, according to Amcal Pharmacy. The report indicated most people tried to solider on through their work, not wanting to be seen as constantly complaining.

Experts, including BCH, are warning one of the signs of opioid addiction was headaches so it was important to develop a pain management plan with a pharmacist or doctor.

UFS pharmacist Peter Fell earlier this month warned the codeine ban would likely put added pressure on GPs and cause a spike in alternate pain-killers, which could in turn create whole new side effects.

Ballarat Health Services declined to comment.

MEDICINE REQUIRING A PRESCRIPTION FROM FEBRUARY 1:

  • Codeine-containing painkillers, such as Panadeine, Nurofen Plus and Mersyndol.
  • Codeine-containing cold and flu products, such as Codral and Demazin.