A NATIONWIDE crackdown three months ago on the way codeine tablets are sold was a waste of time, say doctors and pharmacists who claim addicts are still buying scores of boxes a day.
The National Drugs and Poisons Schedule Committee ordered that from May codeine tablets be sold only in pharmacies amid fears that 1 in 20,000 people were abusing drugs such as Nurofen Plus and Panadeine, which contain ibuprofen, paracetamol and codeine.
It also banned customers from buying the tablets in bulk.
Overuse can lead to perforated gastric ulcers and kidney failure.
Most pharmacists are required to log a buyer's name and address, but the director of the Pain Management Centre at Royal North Shore Hospital, Charles Brooker, said the new regulations were ''a waste of time''.
''Severe addicts have not been stopped. They are still visiting multiple pharmacies in a day. And we are still seeing people with disastrous complications from excessive doses of ibuprofen.''
Dr Brooker said the abuse of codeine and ibuprofen was proof that Australia lacked adequate chronic pain management services, with many people waiting more than a year to see specialists at Royal North Shore.
Under the previous law, customers could buy packs of 96 tablets, but that has been reduced to 30 tablets in a six-a-day pack and 40 tablets in an eight-a-day pack.
The president of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, Kos Sclavos, said the crackdown had alerted pharmacists to some customers who were unknowingly on the brink of addiction, but had annoyed infrequent users and not deterred addicts. ''The situation is as bad as it was before,'' he said.
Earlier this year he had fought the changes fearing it would force more people to visit GPs for prescriptions, costing the health system about $2 billion.
''But it looks like that's not happening. These people are quite determined to get their supplies and will buy from several pharmacies in a day.''
The executive director of the Australian Self Medication Industry, Deon Schoombie, said the restrictions had only affected people who had been using the medications appropriately. ''This was never going to impact on problem behaviour,'' he said.
A study, published today in the Medical Journal of Australia, analysed data from 27 people who were taking up to 100 codeine and ibuprofen tablets a day.
The study, conducted by Matthew Frei from the Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre in Melbourne, found that many of those studied had suffered gastrointestinal haemorrhages, vomiting and anaemia.
One patient, who was taking up to 48 tablets a day, had to be admitted to intensive care with renal failure.
A spokeswoman for Reckitt Benckiser, the makers of Nurofen Plus, said the company's medication did ''not generally lead to addiction if taken for the short-term''.
September 6, 2010