Concerns GPs will be booked out and emergency departments clogged up after codeine rules change

Wagga residents fear new regulations restricting the availability of painkillers containing codeine will lead to long waits for a doctor’s appointment and clog emergency departments.

On The Daily Advertiser’s Facebook page, readers have questioned the need to restrict painkillers containing codeine, which are currently available over the counter from pharmacies, to prescription-only from February 1.

They have also expressed concerns about the cost of having people visit the doctor to obtain a prescription for a medication they can still buy from a pharmacy until January 31.

One reader, Larissa Palamara, has seen both sides of the opioid addiction debate.

She has a background in health and community work and before moving to the Wagga region, worked in a city women’s refuge.

Ms Palamara understands the seriousness of opioid addiction.

“I have seen opioid dependence and I have seen codeine dependence,” Ms Palamara said.

“But we also have such an overworked health system.”

Ms Palamara is concerned the cost of visiting a GP to get a prescription filled would drive many people into hospital emergency departments.

“I went to the doctor over the Christmas period. It cost $75, and that was after I was able to find one with a vacancy,” she said.

“One female GP had a four-week wait for appointments. I’d like to think that if my two-year-old woke up in the morning and was sick, I could get an appointment with a doctor.”

Seventy-five dollars is a lot of money for people who are heading to the doctor just to get a prescription.

“There has got to be a way to redirect funding to support people who are self-medicating with codeine.”

Ms Palamara said she understood the concern about codeine addiction that had led the government to up-scheduling painkillers containing the opioid.

“But it very much seems like a quick fix,” she said.

Having worked closely with people dealing with opioid dependence, Ms Palamara is now concerned those struggling with addiction will not get the support they need, as the government will not fund the extra services, on the pretense of dealing with the issue by changing regulations.

In 2015, a Pharmacy Guild analysis put the up-scheduling cost to Medicare at as much as $316 million a year.