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Return unused prescription opioids to your local pharmacy

11 July 2019

Nearly 150 people are hospitalised in Australia every day as a result of the adverse effects of opioid pain medicines.

In a concerted effort to reduce this—and opioid-related dependence, illnesses and cases of misuse—the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is urging Australians to return unused prescription pain relief medicines to their local pharmacy.

Australians who are prescribed painkillers and don’t use them all are advised not to keep them 'just in case' or for use down the track.

Keeping unused prescription pain medication in the home is dangerous for children and pets if accidently consumed, and can be a target for theft and misuse.

Unused pain relief medication, like all medicines, can be returned to a local pharmacy for safe disposal free of charge.

The TGA is rolling out a social media campaign and working directly with pharmacies to promote this service.

This is an important aspect of work being taken by the TGA to reduce the potential adverse impacts of opioids on the health of Australians.

The TGA's decision to up-schedule codeine to a Prescription Only Medicine in February 2018 has also led to a significant decrease in the number of products supplied to Australian patients.

Analysis of medicine sales data from IQVIA shows the total volume of products containing codeine supplied in Australia during 2018 was around 50 per cent lower than the average total supplied in the previous four years – from an average of 34.7 million packs per year from 2014 to 2017, to 17.2 million packs in 2018.

The TGA did not find any increase in the supply of high-strength codeine products following up-scheduling and the data also suggests patients previously taking over-the-counter codeine did not switch to other opioids.

The decision to up-schedule codeine was based on the best available evidence which showed low-dose codeine combined with paracetamol or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs—such as ibuprofen or aspirin—were generally no more effective than other non-codeine medicines.

Codeine containing medicines are associated with health risks including addiction leading to misuse, liver damage, gastrointestinal perforations, blood potassium imbalances and respiratory depression.

These risks were judged to be too high without oversight from a doctor.

The 'Return your unused opioids' resource kit for health professionals is available online.