Aussie pharmacies test real-time monitoring of codeine sales

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Aussie pharmacies test real-time monitoring of codeine sales

Industry lobby fights against prescription-only plans.

Pharmacies across Australia will soon embark on a large-scale pilot of real-time monitoring of over-the-counter sales of medicines containing codeine, in bid to stop the government reclassifying the pills as prescription-only.

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia last month commenced user testing of the prototype "MedsASSIST" real-time monitoring tool with around 30 pharmacies in the Newcastle area of NSW.

The system records purchases and allows pharmacies to review a customer's recent purchases from other pharmacies to identify patients who are at risk of codeine dependence. 

Customers need to consent to have their details recorded, but will not be supplied the codeine product unless consent is given.

Late last year Australia's drug regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, said it planned to reclassify codeine products as prescription-only from June this year in response to concerns about codeine abuse.

The decision would affect around 150 codeine products, including common painkillers like Nurofen Plus and Panadeine.

The Pharmacy Guild at the time hit back at the decision, arguing it was unlikely to curb addiction and would instead create more work for doctors while disadvantaging the majority of customers who use codeine-based products safely.

The Guild's IT subsidiary, GuildLink, built the MedsASSIST real-time monitoring tool in partnership with the Australian Self Medication Industry (ASMI) in the hope it would provide enough data to convince regulators the reclassification of codeine products was not necessary.

It is now preparing to ramp up the trials, and will bring 150 pharmacies in the Newcastle and North Queensland regions on board next month.

"The data collected in the pilot of MedsASSIST will form part of the Guild submission to the Advisory Committee on Medicine Scheduling (ACMS) which is meeting in mid-March to re-consider its interim decision to [reclassify codeine products]," Guild president George Tambassis wrote yesterday.

"The Guild has argued that the implementation of a real-time monitoring system in community pharmacy would be more effective and economical to assist in identifying at-risk consumers, facilitate access to education materials and support appropriate referral when required."

The organisation expects to roll out the monitoring tool nationally in March and said it believed the tool could be deployed and operational by June. It has been contacted for further detail.

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