New codeine laws and drug screening

30 January 2018 | News

From 1 February 2018, medicines containing codeine will no longer be available without a prescription.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has made a ruling that any medicine containing codeine will be available by prescription only from 1 February 2018.

As such, the use of codeine requires consideration under company Drug and Alcohol Policy and Management Plans.

There are over forty different codeine containing combination analgesic (pain killing), cough suppression and ‘cold and flu’ preparations currently available over the counter in Australian pharmacies. They have historically been available without a doctor’s prescription. These commonly used medications will only be available legally with a doctor’s prescription from 1 February 2018.

The changes have been enacted as there is a small but significant number of the Australian population who use these preparations in excess and are addicted to codeine and its natural metabolite morphine. It is a recognised agent of drug dependency. It is only available by script in a number of countries including the USA, most of Europe, Hong Kong, Japan, the United Arab Emirates. There is no compelling evidence of any positive therapeutic effect of low dose codeine.

There will be workers who have legally and legitimately purchased codeine containing preparations for personal use prior to this date. It is predicted there will be ongoing use of these codeine containing preparations for a period post the “prescription only” deadline. It is important to understand that the use of codeine is not illicit, therefore using preparations bought before the 1 February 2018 is therefore legal, this somehow needs to be verified with the candidate. The changes only means that this product can be regulated much better.

Jobfit performs drug and alcohol screening for the purpose of detecting drug and alcohol use that may affect Workplace Health and Safety. Codeine and its metabolite morphine is already a standard screening under AS/NZS 4308:2008. The results are reported in line with company Drug and Alcohol Policy whenever this has been made available to us.

Jobfit encourages our clients to revise their Drug and Alcohol Policy as a matter of urgency and inform us in writing as to the company response to codeine use evidenced on GCMS. For example, some companies are considering a three month grace period and are actively engaging in worker education on the issue.

From 1 February 2018, Jobfit will be informing candidates at the time of booking and testing that codeine use is now script only, and candidates will be required to provide evidence of legal use.

In the absence of specific company direction in writing, our approach will be:

  • Candidates will be required to provide detailed information on when the product was purchased with a photo of the medication label, pharmacy receipt, or other evidence of purchase dated before 1 February 2018.
  • If this cannot be provided, candidates may be required to attend their treating GP and obtain a letter of verification that the use is not of a dependent nature.
  • Follow up testing may be recommended to ensure use has ceased and confirms that dependency is not an issue.
  • The final outcome of the drug screen test and result is ultimately the decision and judgement of the assessing doctor.

Please note this may potentially cause minor delays in reporting. Every effort to streamline the process will be made.

Should you require clarification or wish to discuss further, please contact your local Client Relations & Operations Manager or call 1300 61 61 65. For more information about the changes and for a list of codeine-containing products, visit the TGA website.

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