Can’t be trusted with codeine

The announcement by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) that pharmaceutical products that contain codeine will no longer be available over the counter in 2018 has been met with resistance by the Australian Self Medication Industry (ASMI) and many ordinary Australians who rely on these medications for self management of pain. Medications containing codeine will be Schedule 4 drugs as of February 2018 meaning that for people to obtain them, they will have to get a prescription from a GP. The main reason cited is that codeine is unsafe and addictive for certain people and that because of this, there is a potential for abuse.

This reasoning is faulty and it assumes that making a substance harder to obtain will somehow prevent people becoming addicted to it. If this were the case, then there wouldn’t be people who are addicted to drugs that are already only available by prescription like Valium or Xanax. At an addiction clinic run by Dr Christian Rowan in Brisbane, people addicted to over the counter codeine represent 25% of all people treated. 15% are addicted to prescription only medications and 40% are people addicted to illicit drugs which present an even higher hurdle to obtain than prescription drugs. The remaining 20% are alcoholics. That means that the majority (55%) of all the people being treated at the clinic are being treated for addictions to substances that are already restricted by the TGA or are illegal. Clearly restrictions do not prevent addictions.

Products containing codeine are used successfully by millions of Australians to manage chronic pain conditions, migraine and menstrual pain. Although addiction is unfortunate, the vast majority of people use over the counter codeine products, alcohol and other dangerous substances responsibly. Addiction is a problem that affects a minority of people, and these people need the help of medical and psychological services if they choose to access them. The idea that making it more difficult to access substances will somehow reduce addictions is ill-founded, and doesn’t justify restricting the choices of everyone.

Claiming that codeine products are dangerous and restricting access to them ignores the obvious, which is that there are plenty of dangerous substances freely available that we encounter in everyday life. Paracetamol for example can be lethal if taken inappropriately and yet you can buy it in a supermarket. Any adult over the age of eighteen can freely purchase addictive substances like caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. If potential for abuse and safety are accepted reasons for restricting certain substances, then what follows is a justification for restricting all dangerous substances and activities, for our own good.

The impacts of restricting access to over the counter codeine products will be increased trips to the doctor resulting in increased medicare costs of $170 million, increased PBS costs, greater waiting times at GP clinics, increased time off work as people visit their GPs more, and less consumer choice. Maybe those struggling with codeine addiction will turn to illicit substances to rather than having to explain their situation to their GP. There is also a risk of stockpiling, break-ins and the emergence of a codeine black market. All this with no real evidence that codeine addiction will be reduced.

History has shown us that prohibitions and restrictions tend to have to opposite effect to the one intended. The puritan prohibition of alcohol in the US resulted in the rise of organised crime and violence, and alcohol was still consumed at a rate of 60-70% of the pre-prohibition level; there is no evidence that the war on drugs has prevented drug addiction and deaths, in fact in has been argued that it has exacerbated them.

The role of government should be to secure our freedoms by protecting us from physical aggression and protecting our personal property rights, ensuring that we can prosper.  When governments overstep and try to control our behaviour and habits with restrictions on substances, lifestyle taxes and hectoring public health edicts, they end up standing between the people and want the people want, and everyone loses.

This move by the TGA to restrict access to over the counter codeine products further erodes our civil liberties. It denies us our moral autonomy to make our own decisions about what we put in our bodies.  We should demand the freedom to make bad choices, to be unhealthy or addicted; it’s nobody else’s decision to make. The attitude we must fight against is the one that assumes that the government needs to save people from themselves, the one that infantilises us and attempts to strip us of personal responsibility.

Restrictions on over the counter codeine speak to the larger phenomenon of government intrusion on all aspects of our personal lives, and it this intrusion that we must resist and speak out against at every opportunity if we hope to regain our personal freedoms and dignity. If we get used to the idea that a government body is protecting us by removing harmful and addictive substances from chemists for example, then it follows that we will become less personally responsible for our choices and behaviour, and ultimately less free.

This article was also published by The Spectator Australia, 3 January 2017.

34 Comments on "Can’t be trusted with codeine"

  1. The chemist where I go, assistant preemptively let the cat out of the bag about this to me when she asked me to produce an ID for codeine and ibuprofen, then the chemist rushed over and corrected her. it was weird but now I know why, just fucked up.

  2. Its bot just over counter drugs its also everyday personal freedom of choice

  3. It will not work history proves that and only make it more costly to see a doctor

  4. Imagine the increased cost to our health system, and availability of GPs this is a stupid idea.

  5. Just make marijuana legal.

  6. Codeine will kill your liver anyway grrrrr use medical marijuana if you can get it & I’ve been using for 30+years now & have a steel plate in my back & don’t touch pills at all they turn you into a fukn ZOMBIE & make ppl a hell of alot of money????? Stay on pills you are DOOMED weed fixes all my problems & can fix yours to it can not kill you but it kills cancers so think about it OK cheers

  7. Codeine is not the baddie here .. yes it is addictive and as a long term user I personally know that I am addicted but to manage my chronic back pain it is essential. The paracetamol that comes with the codeine is what kills your liver.
    I get 6x monthly prescriptions on authority at 2x tablets 4x/day. My next visit to the doctor will be a change.. he’s worried about the long term use of paracetamol not the codeine & will be changing my script to either straight codeine or morphine .. interesting times.
    I would like to try medical marijuana as well because I know that smoking does help with my pain but am unsure if other marijuana based products will help at all. Queensland apparently has just legalised medical marijuana but not sure about supply as yet .. or if doctors are about to start prescribing.

  8. Yes , it is governments place to put restrictions on certain things so that they are used appropriately , but the nanny state that is Australia is frightening. As you say the more that is legislated the less we think for ourselves. The consequences of this can be seen when Australians – especially young Australians- travel overseas and partake in things which are obviously dangerous. When something bad happens they are shocked and amazed that it wasn’t ‘safe’ and they were allowed to do it. They are no longer capable of assessing risk. I do think though the lawyers and judges must be held accountable – people just should not be allowed to sue if they have CHOSEN to do something which MAY have poor outcomes.

  9. Government is supposed to bring and keep ORDER in a Society, not CONTROL of a Society. We are like chooks in a pen or sheep in a paddock, the suppliers of the Controllers breakfasts and there to be fleeced.

  10. i bought a pakt of panadine forte yesterday i had to ask the chemist for them, tell him why i wanted them, he kinda gave me a sort of dr consultation, asked me questions asked if i had tried other pain medications, gave me a warning about how mny i should take and made me show him my licence surely that is enough to stop ppl from abusing them

  11. What a joke, more government involvement in our lives, won’t be able to sneeze without them knowing soon

  12. Can not buy in most Asian countires, not over counter or by prescription

  13. My they will be telling us what we can do next,just like the UN tells Turnbull ,he thinks he can do the same to us,but the trouble is the rest of the government are letting it happen,sickos the lot of them

  14. The only reason people abuse codeine is because other drugs are illegal. True story.

  15. good get codeine on nhs plus the doctors visit on medicare so istead of ten dollars out of my pocket it will be six dollars twenty and however much on meicare and nhs

  16. I too use panadeine as long term pain relief. Thankfully I don’t need it every day! I’m more concerned with damage done by paracetamol than the codeine! I’m angry about these new changes, I feel I’m being treated as a child not allowed what’s good for me, because I might start to like it! Those who have to take it don’t like it! I’m not a child, I have tried many pain relief tablets, these work without side effects except the damage to liver!!!

  17. This is a step too far. Vaccination, helmet and seat belt laws, these I agree with. Small doses of codeine? I have found codeine works for things other over the counter meds have no effect on. It dulls gallstone pain. It also suppresses the urge to cough, which if you’ve ever had a really nasty dry cough, you’ll understand the benefit of. People can mostly be trusted to use these medicines wisely.

    • All it will do is cause further cost blowouts on an already overwhelmed healthcare system that is currently in it’s death throws as it dies as it necessitates more and more trips to doctors and the ER.

  18. Medicare be hit hard with another billion dollars worth of claims.. just to get a pain killer that 99.99% of us use wisely.. The few drug users it is supposed to control have ruined it for us .. Who makes these decisions? It’s not governing.. it’s controlling and wasting our Medicare budget.

  19. Yes the medical/pharma controls on income, high of course!

  20. So
    1: you can’t buy codeine but you can buy goon.
    2: you’ll need to go to the doc or ER on the taxpayer’s dime to get codeine, so it goes from costing the taxpayer nothing to costing a couple of hundred bucks per headache.

    Government am clever! Government am fix things!!!

  21. Another brilliant savings strategy. Who’s the main beneficiary, the AMA or the Pharmacy Guild?

  22. They removed these from the prescription list. Had to be bought over the counter, make up your minds (if you have one).

  23. It was not sold just over the counter but was Pharmacist only so there were checks in place !!

  24. As per usual, the majority suffer because of the minority. Druggies, overdose them! Over- regulated UNDER governed nanny country!

  25. If you abuse codeine good luck with your intestines

  26. so those with addiction will still get access but those occasional users will now need a GP script at what cost to Medicare?

  27. Get a life, “Liberty works” – put your energy into fighting the cuts to the pension, not how easy it is to get little white pills!

Leave a comment