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OTC analgesics containing codeine safe for majority of users

OTC analgesics containing codeine safe for majority of users

1 May 2015 – Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines containing codeine, including codeine-combination analgesics, are an effective short-term option for temporary relief of moderate to strong pain, when taken according to the directions on the pack, the consumer healthcare products industry body, the New Zealand Self-Medication Industry (SMI) reaffirms today.

SMI’s comments follow news that Australia’s drug regulator is considering a proposal to make around 150 codeine-containing products prescription-only, meaning they would no longer be available in Australia without a prescription from a doctor.

In New Zealand, OTC codeine-combination analgesics are only available behind the counter in pharmacy after consultation with a pharmacist. These medicines are intended strictly for short-term use and pack sizes are limited. Longer term use should only occur under the direction of a GP or pharmacist.

As a pharmacist-only medicine, pharmacists are required to determine whether it is appropriate to supply analgesics containing codeine. They are required to assist the consumer with appropriate product selection and to recommend an alternative analgesic option where it is warranted.

“The issue of misuse and addiction to OTC analgesics is a serious health issue, which should not be downplayed. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the vast majority of people who use these products do so responsibly,” says SMI executive director Tim Roper.

Mr Roper continues: “SMI is committed to supporting the quality use of medicines in all aspects of analgesic use, including issues such as labelling, packaging, dosage and availability of public information. We continue to work with pharmacists and Medsafe, the regulator of medicines in New Zealand, on safe use of all OTC medicines.”

According to Mr Roper:“The use of non-prescription medicines containing codeine is safe when used according to label instructions. These medicines are intended strictly for short term use and in New Zealand packs are labelled that codeine should only be used for a maximum of three days. The pack also states that codeine is an addictive substance.”

When taking a pain reliever, like any medicine, it is important that consumers read the label carefully, including the warning statements on the pack, and only take the medicines as directed.

“SMI supports several measures to encourage the appropriate use of codeine-combination analgesics and minimise the risk of misuse, including mandatory on-pack warnings about codeine’s potential for addiction; and continuing to limit pack sizes so consumers must interact with a pharmacist if more pain relief is needed.”

Mr Roper says that, although NZ does not have a real-time monitoring system, SMI would be prepared to support the idea and work towards its implementation.

“We would also support the full implementation of a programme to equip pharmacists with the information they need to counsel and educate consumers about the appropriate use of codeine. However, time would be needed for such a programme to take effect.”

-ENDS-

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