It’s a white substance, made from opium and relieves pain or
induces sleep. And you can buy it across the counter at any pharmacy.
But be careful, warns Dr Nicola Rains, a general
practitioner at NHC Health Centres.
There is a high risk of dependence, precisely because of its
euphoric effect. With chronic use patients may develop tolerance to these
effects and require increased doses, which can then cause drowsiness and
Its pain-relieving effect is enhanced with paracetamol and
anti-inflammatories. So it is often found in pain-relieving combination medication
and in its pure form as a cough suppressant.
What all of these medications have in common is codeine,
which is an opium alkaloid. Because of the possibility of dependence,
pharmacies are obliged to control who buys these medications and the quantity purchased.
Keeping track of
“The Watertower Pharmacies have controls in place – not only
when the patient has a prescription but also when patients buy these medicines
across the counter. We ask the patient for personal details and capture this on
our database so we can track consumption and prevent possible misuse,” says
Heinrich Du Toit, pharmacy operations manager at Watertower Pharmacies.
Du Toit says it is of major concern to health professionals
that there is currently no uniform approach to the issue nor a shared database
through which patients could be tracked across pharmacies. Because of different
pharmacy groups and independent pharmacies, this will not be simple to
implement – but it would make it more difficult for patients to consult several
practitioners and have a number of scripts filled at different pharmacies
without any oversight.
“The SA Pharmacy Council is expected to launch the Codeine
Care Project at its upcoming annual conference. The NHC Health Centres and
Watertower Pharmacies are fully committed to patient safety and safe dispensing
of all medicine including codeine, and we support initiatives that will enable
pharmacy networks and independent pharmacies to cooperate on this critical
matter,” says du Toit.
(Picture: opium poppy from Shutterstock)