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Codeine changes - what you need to know

An array of medication blister packs containing different coloured pills.
Changes will be made to how codeine-containing medicines can be accessed.

You might have heard that the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) have decided to change the way people can access medicines containing low-dose codeine in Australia.

This might affect you if you are currently taking a medicine that contains codeine, care for someone who is taking medicine that contains codeine, or require a medicine that contains codeine in the future.

Below we’ve explained the reasons for the change, and where you can get more information.

What is codeine?

Codeine belongs to the family of drugs called opioids. Other opioid drugs include morphine, oxycontin and heroin. Opioid drugs are depressants, which means they slow down the messages that travel between the brain and the body.

Over-the-counter codeine-containing drugs include pain relief products like Panadeine, Nurofen Plus and Mersyndol, as well as pharmacy generic pain relief products. Codeine can also be found in some cold and flu medications.

What has changed and why?

From 1 February 2018, medicines that contain codeine will no longer be available without a prescription. Previously, some codeine-containing medicines, like the ones listed above, were available over-the-counter from your pharmacy without a prescription.  

Codeine can be highly addictive, which means people who take it can begin to rely on it to feel good, rather than using it to treat pain. Long term, regular use of codeine can lead to:

  • tolerance of its effects, meaning people need to take more to have the same effects on their symptoms
  • dependence, which means a person’s body might begin to depend on codeine to function properly
  • problems with the stomach, kidneys and liver because of the other ingredients in over-the-counter codeine products
  • and, in high doses, death.

Because of these risks, the TGA have decided codeine is too dangerous a drug to be administered without a doctor prescribing it for you.

As well as this, it’s been found that there isn’t any extra benefit to taking a codeine-containing medicine to treat a short-term condition, like a cold, a headache, dental pain or muscle strains compared to taking a medicine that doesn’t contain codeine.

An elderly woman sits at a table reading the instructions and information leaflet that came with a packet of medicine.

How will this affect me?

If you are already using a codeine-containing medicine, you will now need a prescription to get this medicine. If you have been using this medicine regularly, talk with your doctor about your pain problem as there may be different options for your treatment.

Some people who have been using codeine-containing medicines regularly might experience symptoms of withdrawal if they stop taking the medicine. These people should see their GP or contact a help line, counselling or support group such as Alcohol and Drug Information Service or Pain Australia for help managing withdrawal symptoms.

What is the TGA and how can they make this decision?

The TGA sits within the Department of Health of the Federal Government of Australia. The TGA is responsible for regulating therapeutic goods and medicines available in Australia.

The TGA has found clear evidence that access to over-the-counter codeine-containing medication can cause public harm, and as such has made the decision to change the way this medicine can be accessed.

More information

For more information, visit the links below:

TGA – Codeine information hub

Queensland Health – Medicines containing codeine

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Last updated: 21 August 2019