Nurofen Plus Rebellion: Liberal MPs Resist Plans to Restrict Codeine Sales
The health minister, Greg Hunt, has faced a rebellion from Liberal MPs concerned about the government’s plan to restrict consumer access to over-the-counter pain relief products including Nurofen Plus.
Liberals including Tim Wilson, Russell Broadbent, Jason Falinski and Craig Kelly used the opportunity of Tuesday’s regular party-room meeting to raise objections about making the painkillers only available on prescription.
The MPs, to wide acclamation in the room, argued the proposed restrictions were unpopular with constituents and would not work.
The government’s proposal is part of measures to make codeine products prescription-only after the Therapeutic Goods Administration argued for supply restrictions because of the risk of addiction and overdoses.
But the MPs who raised the issue on Tuesday argued that making the products prescription-only would not help with abuse and addiction, because people would “doctor shop”.
MPs argued that current rules, which require consumers to produce identification at pharmacies, were more effective because if customers turned up at multiple pharmacies they faced questions about their consumption.
If the painkillers were prescription-only, consumers would visit multiple doctors to obtain multiple scripts, with doctors not necessarily cross-referencing records.
Party-room sources have told Guardian Australia that Hunt told the dissenters they would not face the political pressure they feared over the measure because the Pharmacy Guild was not intending to campaign against the change. The Pharmacy Guild wields considerable political influence in Canberra.
But Liberals are sceptical about Hunt’s account, with Pharmacy Guild representatives giving MPs a clear impression they opposed the measure.
Notwithstanding the activity of the guild, MPs fear a backlash from their constituents, with many people regular users of strong over-the-counter medicines to treat chronic pain and transient problems such as migraine headaches.
A spokesman for the Pharmacy Guild told Guardian Australia the organisation was not seeking a reversal of the decision to make the pain killers prescription only, but had put a proposal to state governments where “low dose codeine medicines might continue to be available over the counter in limited quantities, subject to strict protocols, and with mandatory real time recording”.
He said the guild had asked that the states consider “the patient impacts of the codeine up-scheduling” – meaning the decision to make the painkillers prescription only.
“We are also urging doctor groups to explain how they intend to cope with the sudden influx of patients with pain related issues and deal with so-called doctor shopping for these medicines in the absence of any uniform national real time recording of prescriptions,” the guild spokesman said.
Hunt told colleagues in the party room the painkillers had been reclassified on the basis of advice from the chief medical and pharmaceutical officers of the states and territories.