Call for painkillers to be pulled from pharmacies with codeine addiction growing

Auckland's Waitemata Health Board has called for common pain killers to be removed from pharmacies because of a growing codeine addiction.

New Zealand's largest drug addiction centre, Community Alcohol and Drug Services (CADS), says it's seeing people who are taking up to 90 pills a day - medicine they don't need a prescription to get.

"The recommended daily dose may be only six to eight," Dr Vicki McFarlane from CADS says.

Warren Flaunty has been a pharmacist for 51 years, and says recently he's noticed more people asking to buy painkillers Nurofen Plus and Panadeine.

"Probably the worst case I've experienced in the pharmacy is someone taking upwards of 70 tablets a day of Nurofen Plus… upwards of 75 dollars a day… funnily enough they're people who are on good incomes, holding down good jobs. "

The medicines contain codeine and opiod, which is known to be addictive.

Auckland-wide drug treatment provider, CADS, agrees the problem is now serious.

Of those admitted for treatment over two months  - 1 in 5 were addicted specifically to over-the-counter codeine-containing painkillers Panadeine and Nurofen Plus.

Interestingly, while it's the codeine that addicts - it's the panadol or ibuprofen sold in the same product that causes the harm.

"One 29-year-old young man died of liver failure from taking over the counter Panadeine. And just recently, I had to send a young woman to hospital with severe liver inflammation.," Dr McFarlane says.

Many people often start taking the products simply to ease toothache, period pain and migraines - and are later shocked when they become hooked.

The drugs are stored behind the counter and customers can only buy one packet at a time. If the pharmacist decides to sell it to them, their details are stored on a computer system within the pharmacy.

But because they're not stored outside of it, customers can simply go from pharmacy to pharmacy to get more of the drug.

Waitemata's District Health Board wants codeine to become prescription-only, and Medsafe is considering it.

But it's something the Pharmacy Guild doesn't believe is necessary, saying it will have an adverse effect on people who just want to get relief.