Codeine to be script-only

Codeine survey

Pain is a significant health burden for many Australians, with up to one in five Australians living with chronic pain. A large proportion of the population rely on over the counter combination medicines containing codeine to manage this pain.

However, from 1 February 2018 all medicines containing codeine will be up scheduled to Schedule 4 or Prescription Only medicines by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). This is a significant change to pain management within the community as these medications are currently available over-the-counter at a pharmcy, following consultation with a pharmacist. 

From February, health professionals who currently recommend OTC codeine-containing products will have to:

  • supply a prescription if they have relevant prescribing rights (or refer to someone who does); or
  • recommend other treatments such as paracetamol and/or non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) or non pharmacological alternatives.

In making a scheduling decision the TGA takes into consideration the risks and benefits of the use of a substance. Studies have shown that there is little evidence that low dose codeine-containing medicines are more effective for pain relief than similar medicines without codeine.

Public consultation has indicated many consumers use codeine-containing medicines to self-treat chronic pain. This has resulted in a high number of consumers becoming addicted to codeine and an alarming increase in the rate of codeine-related deaths over the last 10 years.

For further information:

NSW Health Bulletin - Up-scheduling of over-the-counter codeine-containing medicines

TGA Codeine information hub

TGA Regulation impact statement: Codeine re-scheduling

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