Prescription-only codeine? Talk to your doctor about the many ways to manage pain

Products containing codeine will require a prescription from 1 Feb 2018. NPS MedicineWise is urging people to discuss pain management with their doctor or pharmacist.

NPS MedicineWise is urging people to take the opportunity to talk with their doctor or pharmacist about the best way to manage their pain following a decision by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) today that products containing codeine will be available on prescription only from 1 February 2018.

Codeine is from the group of medicines called opioids. In Australia, most opioid-containing medicines including those with high doses of codeine (30 mg or more) are only available on prescription. However low-dose codeine is currently sold over the counter in combination with other active ingredients like paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin.

NPS MedicineWise spokesperson and pharmacist Sarah Spagnardi says that evidence shows these low doses of codeine have little therapeutic benefit over and above the other analgesic ingredients also present in these combination medicines —but come with increased risks.

“The decision announced today by the TGA to make codeine-containing products available only on prescription will help to reduce the rates of side effects, misuse and dependence associated with codeine in the community,” says Ms Spagnardi.

“Misuse of these over-the-counter products also increases the risk of side effects related to the other ingredients such as paracetamol or ibuprofen that are sold in combination with codeine.”

People who commonly take codeine purchased over-the-counter are often managing pain, which can be a complex condition.

Pain management strategies can and should vary according to the type of pain, the cause of the pain and the length of time it has been experienced, says Ms Spagnardi.

“It’s important to understand that there are many ways to manage pain, including a variety of medicine and non-medicine options.”

These codeine-containing combination medicines are indicated for temporary pain relief only. If you are finding they no longer provide sufficient pain relief, or you are needing to take them for longer periods of time, a review of your situation by your doctor is probably the best course of action.

“For everyone—but especially for people managing ongoing or chronic pain—this change to the availability of codeine-containing products is an opportunity to have a conversation with their GP or pharmacist and develop a plan for the best management of their pain,” says Ms Spagnardi.

NPS MedicineWise has an online information hub for consumers on chronic pain and managing pain, including:

  • Information on living with and managing chronic pain
  • Tips for talking to your health professional, including a communication tool
  • FAQs about chronic pain
  • Useful links and resources for managing pain

For more information on prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines (herbal, ‘natural’, vitamins and minerals) from a health professional, call NPS Medicines Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) for the cost of a local call (calls from mobiles may cost more). Hours of operation are Monday–Friday 9am–5pm AEDT (excluding public holidays. NPS Medicines Line will be closed from 5pm on Friday 23 December, re-opening at 9am on Monday 3 January).


Independent, evidence-based and not-for-profit, NPS MedicineWise enables better decisions about medicines and medical tests. We receive funding by the Australian Government Department of Health.

If you are a journalist seeking comment on a story or more information on any of our programs or campaigns please contact our media adviser: Stephanie Childs on 02 8217 9249 (during office hours) or call the NPS MedicineWise media phone on 0419 618 365 (for urgent media requests outside of office hours).