Pharmacists reject call to make codeine prescription only

The organisation has said it is “very aware” of the impact that codeine dependence could have.  
James Wilson
James Wilson

16.38 14 Feb 2023

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Pharmacists reject call to mak...

Pharmacists reject call to make codeine prescription only

James Wilson
James Wilson

16.38 14 Feb 2023

Share this article

Making codeine available only to those with a prescription would be a “disproportionate response” to the problem of addiction, the Irish Pharmacy Union has said 

Yesterday, Newstalk reporter Josh Crosbie talked to Noel, a Kildare man who started using pain relief medication containing codeine to help with a sore knee.  

Codeine is used in a number of over the counter medications, such as Solpadine and Nurofen Plus, but overuse of the drug can sometimes lead to addiction. 


Soon, Noel became known in his local area as someone dependent on the medication and he took to travelling to nearby towns or asking friends to buy the pills for him instead. 

Speaking to The Pat Kenny Show, GP Dr Austin O’Carroll said he too had encountered an addict who obtained the same prescription from more than one healthcare practitioner.  

“A sad case, which I’ll always feel very bad about, was when I first started in General Practice, I inherited a patient who had been on a particular medication that was part codeine, part paracetamol,” he said. 

“She’d been on it for years… She would come in every three months looking for a prescription for it, so I continued it. 

“Then she stopped coming and around a year later, this man arrived then and he tells me he’s the husband of this woman and that, very sadly, that woman had been going to several doctors getting this drug and had died. 

“So, I felt really bad obviously. 

“I don’t do that now but this is the type of result that can happen. So, I’m obviously very aware and alert to codeine addiction as a result of my own experiences.”

DYY91F Tablets of Tylenol 3 (Acetaminophen and Codeine, co-codamols), a prescribed medication used to relieve mild to moderate pain.

All patients in Ireland are given an Individual Health Identifier number but it is not used for the sale of over the counter medicines - something Dr O’Carroll believes would be useful. 

“You really need to control the dispensing of medication with codeine in it,” he said. 

“One thing we don’t have in Ireland [and other countries do], they have what’s called a unique identifier. 

“What happens is, if you go to one pharmacy, a pharmacist can check on the system and find out if you’re on the same medication at other pharmacies… So, it really cuts down on the ability of people to go to several pharmacies.

'Multifactorial issues at play'

President of the Irish Pharmacy Union Dermot Twomey said his members were “very aware” of the impact that codeine dependence could have.  

“We’re confident that the community pharmacists have the skillset and the judgement to exercise whether it’s appropriate to make a sale or not,” he said.  

“There may be multifactorial issues at play, however, the guidelines are very clear - they come from the pharmaceutical society and we and our members and team have to follow them. 

“As an organisation, the IPU is working closely with our members and other stakeholders to try and improve the guidelines and make it easier to use in practice but also to make it easier for members of the public who actually want medicine and they’re using it appropriately for short-term use. 

“So, I think it’s important that the guidelines are proportionate and appropriate.” 

CXWRFM Pile of pills on counter

Some have called for codeine to be made available only to those with a prescription but Mr Twomey this would be a step too far. 

“We would feel that would be a disproportionate response,” he said 

“I think it’s very important that we strike a right balance between asking too many questions whereby the member of the public feels they’re not being trusted and they’re under attack from the pharmacist. 

“While at the same time, asking appropriate questions to see is the product suitable for them.”

Main image: Codeine. Picture by: 

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