Ban on over-the-counter codeine sales is ‘hurting regional people’

A ban on over-the-counter sales of codeine has had a massive impact on chronic pain sufferers in regional Australia, according to one woman.

The woman from the NSW Riverina – who did not want to be named for privacy reasons – said the February 1 ban has had unintended consequences, which are hitting people in the bush particularly hard.

She said people who had previously used over-the-counter painkillers containing codeine were now faced with not only the cost of a GP visit and a prescription, but were also increasingly being refused the drugs at all and instead being urged to see a pain specialist.

The woman, who has suffered chronic pain for two decades, said she was prescribed a transdermal patch for an opioid-based medication and had previously bought Panafen Plus over the counter when she suffered bouts of “breakthrough pain”.

She said the increased cost was a particular issue for chronic pain sufferers because their medical conditions often restricted their ability to work.

The woman’s experience is that pain specialists are relatively few in number, have long waiting lists, and not all of them bulk bill their patients.

“I found one specialist in Canberra who does bulk bill, but the waiting list is 14 months and growing daily,” she said.

The woman is not opposed to the codeine ban. But she said it seemed to have been introduced without enough thought as to how to help people – particularly those in rural Australia – cope with the changes.

A spokesperson for Pain Australia said other people were reporting the same issues as those raised by the Wagga woman.

The National Rural Health Alliance has this week released the results of a survey that found out-of-pocket medical expenses for some country people amounted to thousands of dollars a year.

The alliance’s chief executive officer Mark Diamond said people in regional areas faced longer waits and had limited treatment options.

Mr Diamond said rural patients had less access to bulk-billed services, and seeking specialist treatments was complicated by distance and cost.