Pharmacy Guild Calls on AMA to Meet to Resolve Pain Issues in WA

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The Australian Medical Association’s recent attack on the WA Minister for Health, the Hon Roger Cook MP, demanding an explanation for signing a letter calling for further consideration of alternative access to short term acute use of codeine (non-addictive use) is unwarranted.

Claims that more deaths will result if some access to these medicines is maintained without a prescription are misleading and fear mongering.

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 per cent 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.

There is no question or dispute that codeine addiction to over-the-counter or prescription medicines is causing harm and deaths. The question is how best to address these issues.

The Guild is calling for better support for people with addictive issues, and we accept the TGA decision to upschedule the medicines to prescription only.

We are calling for better use of pharmacists’ expertise in providing short term pain relief for people who have acute issues and need to get through to their next available doctor’s appointment.

The Facts:

  • The Minister’s position does not overturn the TGA decisions to upschedule codeine.
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  • The pharmacy Guild position is not and has never been to overturn the TGA decision.
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  • The Guild’s members will not be substantially commercially disadvantaged by the TGA decision. The debate is not about commerce.
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  • The debate is not about long term chronic users. The majority of deaths are caused by prescription drugs.
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  • We understand the Minister will not and has never said he will overturn the TGA decision. However he has a duty to appropriately consider all impacts of the TGA decision carefully and openly, including the unforeseen impact of changes to the schedule.
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  • The Pharmacy Guild is discussing with government a program of management for people who are addicted to codeine. Over 9 million transactions have been recorded since our real time recording system was developed and rolled out by the Guild in March last year. Of these transactions, around 2 per cent of transactions have been for a ‘deny/non-supply’ and 1 per cent recorded as a safety sale. In thousands of instances pharmacists have identified potential dependence issues and were able to counsel the consumers about appropriate treatment options and often refer them to their doctor.
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  • This system will disappear and be lost after 1 February. Tracking, intervention and appropriate care will be compromised. In this case the AMA’s forecast of more deaths will be realised through the loss of the only management process we have to reduce the incidence of tragic and preventable death.
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  • To be clear the Guild is calling for managed controlled access to short term acute pain.
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  • 94% of consumers we surveyed want this access. Pharmacists are trusted and experts in medicines management.

Call to action:

“The Guild calls on the AMA to meet with us to develop a plan to help manage all people with pain issues. Such a meeting would include discussion of the adoption of real time monitoring, an exception to the schedule to make appropriate use of pharmacists’ skills, and referral into pain management therapy options.

“We will be inviting the AMA to meet. It’s up to them to be part of the solution, or not.”


For further information please contact:
Stephen Wragg WA Branch President and Guild spokesperson on codeine – 0404002255 Natalie Willis WA Branch Vice President – 0410304364
Matthew Tweedie Director Pharmacy Guild of Australia WA Branch – 0404895110