Plans to make strong pain killers harder to access was like cracking a nut with a sledge hammer, Member for Northern Tablelands Adam Marshall said on Friday, as state MP’s took aim at their federal counterparts.
Speaking outside an Armidale pharmacy, Mr Marshall was responding to a federal government decision to make the drug available by prescription only from February next year.
That decision, by federal health minister Greg Hunt came after the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) found restricting access would reduce addiction and deadly overdoses.
But Mr Marshall described people in small towns, who would now have to find a doctor to get pain relief, as collateral damage.
“If you wake up period pain or a tooth ache, you couldn’t come down to the pharmacy to get that severe pain relief” he said. “You’d have to go to a doctor, assuming you can actually get into your doctor.”
Codeine-based products include Panadeine and Nurofen Plus, and while the move to prescription only has won the backing of some medical groups, Armidale pharmacist David Bokeyar was less impressed.
“Regional and remote areas are the ones that are going to be affected more than anywhere else, because you can’t get in to see a doctor,” he said.
Member for Tamworth Kevin Anderson was also critical of the move.
“I understand that the Federal regulator is trying to address dependence and abuse issues which affect some patients using these medicines inappropriately, but I don’t think up-scheduling is the answer,” Mr Anderson said.
“We want to ensure that those with acute pain who require pain relief medicine containing codeine can get it from their local pharmacist when they need it.
“This is about putting patients first, especially those living in our more remote communities.”
The Rural Doctors Association of Australia is one group who have supported the decision.
“The rescheduling of codeine is an important step forward for patient safety, as misusing the drug poses significant danger and addiction is a real problem,” its CEO, Peta Rutherford, said.
“An Australian study showed that codeine related deaths more than doubled over a 10 year period (2000-2009) with 40 per cent of these deaths related to over-the-counter purchase.”
Mr Marshall said he agreed there was a problem with addiction, but said the changes would not address that.
“Those people will definitely be happy to sit down in a doctor’s surgery and wait to get that appointment,” he said.