Confusion reigns as codeine shortage continues

angry customer patient pharmacist pharmacy

Consumers are speaking out about the lack of stock situation in pharmacies – and they’re not happy

In a piece titled “Codeine ban is one painful bungle after another,” News Corp writer Katy Hall has outlined her frustration at attempting to get low-dose codeine to treat a migraine.

She alleges that before January 31, she was told by a pharmacist that she already required a prescription for the medicine, an experience she says is shared by others.

Ms Hall writes she is now unable to fill a prescription due to the stock shortage.

“I made my way to the local chemist with my freshly printed prescription for the low-dose codeine products that help me claw my way out of my pain spiral in hand, only to be told that following the February 1 codeine ban, a number of products were now out of stock due to package reprinting requirements — the one I needed included,” she writes.

“’We’re waiting for the packaging to be updated and probably won’t have those back in stock for another two weeks,’ the chemist told me.

“Had I not been in so much pain at the time it would have been comical — the never-ending-ness of one mixed message after another that has followed the codeine ban around like a bad smell.

“Days prior to the ban being introduced, I’d been standing at the same counter asking for the same products, this time sans prescription.

“’You need a prescription for those now,’ the same chemist told me.”

She did not identify the pharmacy or pharmacist.

She says she asked friends whether they were having similar trouble buying low-dose codeine, and was told by one Canberra woman that she had been told the pharmacy was out of Nurofen Plus, in late January.

“But I could see the product plainly on the shelf behind them!” she told Ms Hall.

Another friend told her he had visited six pharmacies in the last week of January and had been denied low-dose codeine in all of them.

Ms Hall says she spoke to Pharmacy Guild communications director Greg Turnbull, who confirmed that no instructions had been given to pharmacists to prevent them selling low-dose codeine without a prescription in January.

“Even now with a prescription, my options remain unclear,” she writes. “Either I wait in hope that a migraine doesn’t hit before my local chemist is restocked with the same product in a new box, or I spend who knows how long going from one chemist to another like a drug fiend until I find one that already has what I need.”

A number of commenters complained about the upschedule, the stock shortage and the increased price of low-dose codeine following the upschedule – an increase which has seen pharmacists accused of putting up the prices themselves.

“My doctor was happy to give me a script, the problem was trying to get it made up! 6 different chemists in the inner city and not one of them had stock,” wrote a man who identified himself as Bryan.

“The one who did know when it would be coming in said ‘be prepared for a shock on the price’ saying that what was $12 would now be between $20 and $25. If we have to get scripts for these medications why aren’t they on the PBS??!!”

“I had the same experience with my script—not in stock and won’t be for a while. The Pharmacist was furious because the suppliers all it knew it was happening many months ago and couldn’t get their act together,” wrote Ron.

Pharmacists have been accused of increasing the prices of low-dose codeine products by PainAustralia and Chronic Pain Australia, and Health Minister Greg Hunt has referred the matter to the ACCC.

AJP readers have responded to this news by pointing the finger at Nurofen Plus supplier Reckitt Benckiser.

They also highlighted the ongoing shortage: “I’m impressed that they can even get paracetamol/codeine products!” wrote lilacsigil.

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