More than a fifth of codeine users are currently stockpiling the drug, new research suggests

myDNA conducted research to find out how many Australians are using over-the-counter codeine-containing analgesics, ahead of the 1 February upschedule to Prescription Only.

The research revealed that more than one in three people have used codeine to manage pain in the last 12 months, with 64% buying OTC varieties. One quarter of those who used codeine admitted that their pain was still not under control.

The research also found that 21% of people who use codeine are stockpiling supplies, with many worried about how they will manage their pain going forward, given many doctors are potentially reluctant to prescribe the drug, and after their supplies are depleted.

Earlier this month AMA president Dr Michael Gannon had said he wasn’t worried about people stockpiling OTC codeine.

He told the ABC 24 news channel that “I’m not concerned about those reports to the extent that there is now an opportunity, maybe before 1 February, for those people to get a better medication”.

“If they’ve got chronic pain, codeine is not the drug,” he said. “If they’re getting acute pain, there’s an opportunity for pharmacists to educate the patients that there are better options”.

Pain Educator and cinical pharmacist Joyce McSwan says she believes the statistics were collected earlier in the year, and that many pharmacies are “mostly out of stock” of OTC codeine by now.

But she told the AJP that the sheer volume of mainstream media coverage of the upcoming move to Prescription Only could have helped influence some of the stockpiling.

“It almost drives the consumer to act that way,” she says. “It created a desperation situation.

“It’s good and bad in a way: the news informed people that this is happening, which is good, but I think the mainstream media really ramped it all up. Even people who were not super regular codeine users, but used it from time to time, may have bought up as part of that wave of people.”

She says the myDNA data identified codeine users, but not how regular or heavy their use of the drug actually was.

Ms McSwan welcomed the Pain MedsCheck trial, announced today by Health Minister Greg Hunt, saying its approach is in line with the focus of her PainWISE program.

The announcement is “an absolute relief,” she says.

She advises pharmacists dealing with people who have misused codeine – either next week, following the upschedule, or down the track, when stockpiles run low – to “look the bull in the eye” when it comes to handling pain or addiction.

“What can we do to guide them, educate them, navigate them towards what’s appropriate – either alternative stuff over the counter, or referring to the doctor, writing a supporting letter to the doctor, MedsCheck… we need to validate the patient and understand that their expectations are really important.

“This isn’t just nice talk – it’s a very purposeful, informative, non-judgemental way of approaching it. You put your belief aside of their pain, and provide them with as much supportive, sound information as possible.”

myDNA is encouraging Australians to find out if their genes determine that they are a poor metaboliser of codeine, and thus unlikely to get relief from the drug, or a fast metaboliser, which increases an individual’s risk of a morphine overdose.