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Over 1 million prescriptions for codeine issued through public drug schemes – Burke

Current review on the sale and supply of opioid drug must take steps to address potential misuse

1st May 2023 - Colm Burke TD

The number of prescriptions issued for codeine containing medicines has jumped by more than 22% since 2012 to over 1 million prescriptions issued last year, according to a Fine Gael TD.

Deputy Colm Burke obtained figures showing a jump in prescriptions for the pain reliever codeine issued through the three main public drug schemes – the General Medical Services scheme, the Drugs Payment Scheme, and the Long-Term Illness Scheme.

Deputy Burke, Fine Gael’s Dáill Health spokesperson, said: “Data provided to me via parliamentary question shows that last year, 1,110,288 prescriptions were issued for codeine last year, which represents a 22% jump over the last ten years and a 17% increase since 2018.

“Worryingly, numbers for the overall population could be higher than that as these figures do not include items where the prescription has been paid for privately or for codeine containing products which can currently be purchased over the counter.

“In addition to codeine, the most commonly prescribed opioid-based medications include fentanyl, tramadol, morphine, and hydromorphone.

“A total of 571,546 prescriptions for those four drugs were dispensed last year, with both increases and declines in the numbers issued depending on the medication type.

“This compares to 587, 042 tablets issued in 2018, representing a fall of 2% in prescriptions issued for the four opioid drugs over the five year period.

“Last year over half a million prescriptions (460,975) were issued for Tramadol, an opioid used to treat moderate to severe pain, a number which has largely remained similar in recent years. The figures also don’t include another commonly prescribed drug, Oxycodone.

“Regular use of medications containing opioids can increase a person’s tolerance and dependence, leading to opioid use disorder.

“The national drug strategy, Reducing Harm Supporting Recovery, which provides a public health approach to drug and alcohol use, noted that Ireland remains a country with a relatively large opiate problem.

“Safety concerns around the misuse of common non-prescription medicines containing codeine are long established by medics and patient advocates amid calls for all codeine drugs to be made prescription only.

“Codeine is most often used in combination with other analgesics such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can be bought without a prescription in pharmacies.

“The Health Products Regulatory Authority is currently conducting a review of the method of sale and supply of codeine-containing medicines available without a prescription, and the recommendations will then be assessed by the Department of Health and other stakeholders. I believe this review should be concluded urgently.

“It is important that the review takes into consideration the situation in other countries that have taken steps to prevent codeine misuse and addiction by banning over the counter sales.

“The views of GPS, pharmacists and patients affected by codeine addiction should also be listened to when it comes to any potential change in prescribing practices.”

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