Survey data shows 93% of consumers support pharmacists supplying codeine without a prescription under strict conditions

Following the results of a July survey into consumer attitudes towards the impending upscheduling of OTC codeine-containing products, the Guild has produced a snapshot of MedsASSIST data.

According to Guild figures published in this week’s edition of Forefront, 72% of consumers surveyed indicated that they would most likely to go to a doctor for a prescription for these medicines once they are upscheduled.

The Guild surveyed 585 consumers in pharmacies to obtain the data.

Close to two-thirds of the respondents (61%) believe they will need to visit their doctor once the upschedule comes into effect, while an overwhelming majority—93%—said they would support pharmacists supplying codeine without a script under strict conditions including real-time recording and monitoring.

The Guild’s data shows that 4,028 pharmacies—around 70%—are voluntarily using the system.

MedsASSIST was to have been shut down in March, but Health Minister Greg Hunt intervened to work with the Guild to keep it operating and usage figures have remained stable since.

More than 8.5 million transactions have been recorded since it rolled out in March 2016.

Of these transactions, around 2% have been for a “deny/non-supply,” while 1% were recorded as a safety sale.

In these 168,000 instances, pharmacists identified potential dependence issues and were able to counsel the patient about possible treatment options.

The Guild’s figures shows that 89% of consumers who were using codeine medicines regularly – defined as more than once a month – were recommended follow-up action such as a referral to a doctor or pain specialist, pain management care plan, drug or alcohol service.

The Guild says that this shows MedsASSIST has had an effect on inappropriate OTC codeine use, reducing it as intended.

It cited an independent analysis on 49 Guild member pharmacies in Western Australia, which showed that since the introduction of the decision-making tool into the pharmacies, OTC codeine transactions dropped by 31% compared to the same six-month period in the previous year.

“Given the voluntary nature, the Guild considers the uptake of 70% in a matter of months to be exceptional and a clear sign of community pharmacy’s willingness to address this issue,” the organisation says.

“The Guild has always maintained that the implementation of a national real-time recording and monitoring system in community pharmacy would be an effective, targeted and economical way of identifying at-risk consumers and enabling them to access appropriate support.

“Ideally, a national real-time recording and reporting system should capture the prescribing, dispensing and supply of all drugs of dependence, including Controlled Drugs (schedule 8), Prescription Only Medicines (schedule 4) and Pharmacist Only Medicine (schedule 3), in accordance with relevant State and Territory legislation.”

It encouraged pharmacies to keep using the tool.