WA Health Minister codeine ‘backflip’


The AMA’s West Australian branch has accused the State’s Health Minister, Roger Cook, of risking residents’ health

Mr Cook, alongside all other State and Territory Health Ministers bar South Australian Peter Malinauskas, wrote to Federal Minister Greg Hunt to outline concerns about the codeine upschedule.

NSW Deputy Premier and Nationals Leader John Barilaro had called for a compromise position on the drug – the stance the Pharmacy Guild is taking – or potentially, a “reverse would be great”.

“Mr Cook signed a letter with all other state health ministers, with the exception of South Australia, urging Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt to reverse the Therapeutic Drugs Administration decision to make codeine products available only by script in order to minimise the risk of addiction and overdose,” the AMA’s WA branch said in a statement.

The letter in question did not call for the decision to be reversed.

AMA WA president Dr Omar Khorshid said he was “extremely disappointed” that Mr Cook had put his name to the letter, saying he had “put the lobbying and economic power of pharmacists before the health of West Australians”.

“The minister told me and others very recently that he was supportive of the TGA decision,” Dr Khorshid said.

“His decision to backflip on this issue and to cravenly support the Pharmacy Guild severely weakens this planned move. It directly opposes good health policy and will jeopardise the health of West Australians.

“The decision by the TGA was a good one, based on scientific evidence and years of research into the use and abuse of codeine.

“Codeine is dangerous, regularly abused and involved in many drug-related deaths. It is appropriate that the supply of a drug that is so addictive and so easily abused has much stricter regulations.”

Dr Khorshid said that Mr Cook had been drawn into a “poor political decision that he will regret when it inevitably leads to the death of West Australians”.

He said it was vital that Greg Hunt move to reject calls to alter the TGA’s decision on low-dose codeine.

The Pharmacy Guild issued a statement asking the AMA to meet and resolve pain issues in Western Australia.

“Claims that more deaths will result if some access to these medicines is maintained without a prescription are misleading and fear mongering,” the Guild says.

“The Guild has been discussing with the Minister and the Federal Government the only available program to track and refer patients at risk of or with addiction issues into appropriate care. This program would include all pharmacists and GPs including the 76% of GPs that are not members of the AMA.

“The AMA is internally divided on this issue, with the association’s NT President recently acknowledging the problems that will be caused when all medicines containing low dose codeine are made prescription only from 1 February 2018.

“The debate has focused on long-term chronic pain management, while placing too little emphasis on the acute pain needs of thousands of Australians who use these low dose codeine analgesics safely and appropriately.”

The Guild pointed out that Mr Cook’s position does not overturn the TGA decision to upschedule low-dose codeine, nor does the Guild take such a stance.

It said it was calling for “managed controlled access” to short term acute pain relief.

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