05/10/2015 12:30 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST

Codeine-Related Deaths Doubled In Australia Last Decade As Over-The-Counter Ban Considered

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Close-up shot of a hand holding two white pills.

The rate of codeine-related deaths more than doubled in Australia between 2000 and 2009, a new study says.

The research, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, details that codeine related deaths increased from 3.5 people per million in 2000 to 8.7 per million by 2009 in Australia.

The documented rise in codeine-related deaths comes in the wake of renewed calls from medical bodies to make all codeine-containing products prescription only.

“Most deaths involved people who had been prescribed codeine products, although a significant minority (40%) had used over-the-counter codeine products,” the researchers wrote in the study.

They said a growing number of accidental codeine-related deaths were to blame for the overall rise.

“A potential driver may have been the introduction in Australia of over-the-counter products containing larger amounts of codeine, including codeine combined with ibuprofen,” the researchers wrote.

About 150 codeine-containing products could become prescription-only from June next year, after an interim report from the Therapeutic Goods Association last week recommended the restriction of their sale.

The TGA cited the potential for abuse of the drug and growing evidence of its harm worldwide among the reasons for the recommendation to stop over-the-counter sale.

Codeine would be reclassified from a Schedule 3 drug (available through a pharmacist) to a Schedule 4 drug, available through a doctor, if the interim report’s recommendation was adopted.

National President of the Pharmacy Guild, George Tambassis, said a rescheduling of codeine would hurt consumers.

“The re-scheduling of combination analgesics containing codeine would add significant costs to the health system, and would disadvantage many thousands of consumers who use these products safely and beneficially,” Tambassis said.

The Pharmacy Guild is arguing for real-time monitoring of codeine supplied to consumers to help pharmacists keep track.

But researchers said more education on the risks of the drug was necessary at the point of sale to reduce harm.

“Increasing the capacity of specialist pain, addiction and mental health treatment services in Australia should also be a priority,” they wrote.