SOME codeine users will turn to street drugs in an effort to deal with off-the-shelf pain medication becoming prescription-only, experts and patients warn.
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners Victoria chair and Lara GP Dr Cameron Loy said there is genuine concern those dependent on codeine-based medication would “transition to street purchase of pharmaceuticals or the street purchase of heroin”.
While many patients are simply seeking alternate medicines, he says the effect of codeine being taken off the shelf will soon become apparent.
“I don’t think we’re seeing the people that are dependent just as yet, I think we will see them once the hoarded supplies dwindle,” Dr Loy said.
“(Right now) I think we’re seeing a group of reasonably engaged patients who have been using drugs like Mersyndol for migraines ... and we’re able to offer them better advice on how to manage (their pain).
“Some groups will transition the other way and will seek either other sedating substances at pharmacies or will actually go out onto the street ... and turn to street drugs. But I think that second group will be small.”
A Geelong resident, who used codeine to treat lower back and nerve pain, told the Geelong Advertiser they had resorted to drinking straight spirits to try to get to sleep, unable to visit a pharmacist to easily access the medication over the counter.
Just days after codeine medications moved to prescription-only on February 1, the Geelong Advertiser observed supermarket shelves holding non-codeine pain relief products, including Nurofen and Panadol, almost been stripped bare.
Western Victoria Primary Health Network chief executive Dr Leanne Beagley said it was too early to tell how much of an effect the new laws would have on the region’s codeine users.
“People who were using codeine regularly may have stocked up on the medication before February 1,” Dr Beagley said.
“We may see results from the change in a month or so.”
Dr Loy said when codeine was easily accessible, data showed half a million Australians admitted to using codeine products for problems other than analgesia.
He said the group of people misusing codeine would “move somewhere”.
“The hope is that people who have been using codeine products ... will make an appointment to see a doctor ... and they’ll actually start managing those patients better for their health.”