Over-the-counter ban looms, but no need for panic buying

Low dose over-the-counter (OTC) codeine-containing products such as Nurofen Plus, Panadeine and Mersyndol will only be available with a prescription from a doctor from February 1. The main reason for this change is that a small number of people are thought to be misusing the products. 

However, as a pharmacist working in a community pharmacy in Inverell NSW that has been operating for 45 plus years, I believe that the vast majority of people in our community use these products safely to treat acute, short-term pain such as migraine, toothache, period pain.

If the proposed change goes ahead, I believe it will force some in our community to suffer unnecessary pain because if they wish to use the products they will have to wait to get a doctor’s appointment. 

As a pharmacist, i will no longer be able to supply the products to anyone without a doctor’s prescription.

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We must also remember that alternative OTC analgesics containing ibuprofen, such as Maxigesic and Noromol, will not be a safe option for many people because of their current medical conditions, or the other medications they are taking. 

If the rescheduling goes ahead it will leave many in our community without an effective OTC treatment for their toothache, period pain or migraine or other short-term pain conditions.

I have introduced into our pharmacy a RealTime monitoring system which allows us to track all of our sales of OTC analgesics containing codeine. This system has also been introduced into the majority of pharmacies in NSW, and it allows pharmacists to identify those people who may be misusing the products and offer them counselling and referral to a doctor or other health care professional for further assessment and appropriate care.

This decision to make the products only available on prescription can be changed as the NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard can regulate to allow pharmacists to give people in acute pain a limited three-day supply in conjunction with mandating real time monitoring that is already in place in the majority of pharmacies 

If Mr Hazzard does this it will allow pharmacists to identify and help those people who may be misusing the products, while at the same time allowing the vast majority of people who use the products appropriately and safely for the short-term treatment of acute pain continued access to the products without a prescription.

State MPs have the power to help people in pain by simply asking Mr Hazzard to make this change. 

With the clock ticking towards February 1, we are issuing an urgent call to any local people who share our concerns to contact your local Member of Parliament and the Honorable Brad Hazzard 02 8574 6000, office@hazzard.minister.nsw.gov.au so that they may represent you at the State level where there is still scope for a more common sense solution, as outlined above, to be regulated. 

Godwin Ekhayeme

Ditton’s Pharmacy Pharmacist in Charge