27 October 2017

Big pharma relaxed over upscheduling of codeine

Drugs Pharmacy

The Pharmacy Guild’s bid to thwart the planned upscheduling of codeine from next year has alarmed doctors and health consumer groups, but “big pharma’s” response may be more telling.

Adjunct Professor Tim Greenaway, Chief Medical Adviser of the governmental regulatory group that includes the TGA, said the drug industry was not part of the Guild’s campaign to water down the curbs on codeine.

The Guild has hired former Liberal senator Santo Santoro to approach state ministers to block the reform, suggesting only prescription codeine caused abuse and addiction problems.

Professor Greenaway said that argument was “absolute rubbish”.

“It’s probably instructive to reflect upon the fact that you have not heard anything from pharma about this,” he said at the recent Rural Medicine Australia conference.

“The reason for that is that it’s happening around the world.  They are quite understanding of the decision. They were more interested in the process, and they gave no intention of debating the decision.”

France had tightened controls on codeine in one day; whereas Australia was taking two years to make codeine available only on prescription under the S4 classification next February.

In an open letter to health ministers, doctors’ groups registered “deep concern” at the pharmacy owners’ campaign, saying it sent misleading and confusing messages on the effectiveness and safety of OTC codeine.

Professor Greenaway said the reform would bring an increase in GP consultations, but that was only appropriate for patients needing pain management.