Pain and Codeine

With Permission from Mary-Lynne Cochrane, Dec, 2017

Recent changes in Australia making codeine based medications much harder to obtain.  Perhaps an poorly thought through response by government because the views of people with chronic pain appear not to have been considered.

For far too long in Australia, the only choice to manage pain has been taking painkillers like codeine that often create more problems and harms than they address.  If codeine is no longer available over the counter then people with chronic pain need accessible and alternative treatments!

I am Mary-Lynne Cochrane, a Good Samaritan Sister who knows what it is like living with chronic pain. I have lived with arthritis for more than 30 years. In that time, I’ve had nearly all of my major joints replaced, a bone transplant, and three back surgeries. I have lived with constant pain, sometimes unable to move. A lifetime of mismanagement with painkillers and their side effects has taken its toll. There are thousands of people with similar stories out there.

In the early stages of my pain I took the over-the-counter drug Mersyndol, sometimes doubling the dose to cover the pain. After that I took a range of prescription opioids including Panadeine Forte, Morphine, Endone, OxyContin and Gabapentin.

They made me sleepy; I put on weight, and my pain still became uncontrollable. I always had to make sure I had enough painkillers in the house. If I didn’t have enough I would panic at the thought of running out and not being able to relieve the pain. I believed my only choice was to cover up the pain rather than manage it.

I am one individual – I want to change one thing that would help countless others like me.

I only learned how to manage pain without medication a few years ago when I attended a pain clinic. I learned about my pain, I had to change my thinking and practice of relieving pain. Instead of lying down and being careful, I now know I have to get up and move.

There is still a lot of misunderstanding in the community about pain management, and it is very important people who want to stop taking opioids are given the right support to do so.

It shouldn’t cost me more to manage pain properly using allied health care than it does to use painkillers.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration is removing one of the few choices that people living with pain – over-the-counter codeine. When misused, codeine can be a dangerous and addictive opioid.  It is responsible for the deaths of over a hundred people a year. Australians are forced to use this over-the-counter killer because there are so few options available.

At present, patients with a chronic condition can be eligible for five allied health services per calendar year. The five services may be made up of one type of service (e.g. five physiotherapy services) or a combination of different types of services (e.g. one dietetic and four podiatry services). The GP determines the number and combination of services that are appropriate for the patient’s treatment requirements.

There is no way to manage a chronic pain condition with such little support. One person with a flare up of pain can use five of these services in a week. People using codeine often need better medical support and to be shown alternatives.