PEOPLE are still unaware of how easy it is to become dependent on painkillers like codeine, according to addiction specialist Dr Julaine Allan, who says those addicted are stigmatised and marginalised.
The Lyndon Community’s deputy chief executive officer said it was easy for people to build up a tolerance to codeine medications and most were unaware how harmful an addiction to over-the-counter medication could be.
“I think they’re [those addicted to codeine] stigmatised, marginalised, and there needs to be more done to help them,” Dr Allan said.
“It’s not very well understood that you can get into trouble with these kinds of things and the effects it can have on your health.”
While Dr Allan said the centre had not treated any patients whose main addiction was to codeine, she said many took the weak opioid as an alternative to other substances.
“There are some who will take three packs of Nurofen Plus a day because they can’t get oxycodone or heroin, but they don’t see it as being the same as taking illicit substances,” she said.
She said the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s push for medications containing codeine, like Nurofen Plus and Codral Original Cold and Flu tablets, to be prescribed by doctor rather than being available over-the-counter would not stop people who wanted to get their hands on them.
Research published by the Medical Journal of Australia in August found codeine-related deaths more than doubled from 3.5 per million in 2000 to 8.7 per million in 2009.
Peter Smith Chemmart pharmacist Kate Gray believed people were wilfully blind to its addictive properties.
“We have great drug education in the community. It’s not unawareness, it’s blindness - not believing it can happen to them,” Mrs Gray said.
“It’s the thrill of it. People know ice is addictive, that’s why they take it. We get some young people who come in and buy 30 tablets and something else and take them all to try and get a high.”
Best Buy pharmacist Krysti-Lee Rigby said a real-time reporting system for those who buy codeine, like the system currently in place for pseudoephedrine, would be more effective than doctors’ prescriptions.
“Patients who need the drug for pain relief are not going to be able to access it immediately, which will increase the amount of time they spend at the doctor and then they will have to pop into the pharmacist to pick it up, all the while they are in pain,” she said.