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Objective: To investigate changes in sales to pharmacies of over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription analgesics, cold and flu products, and cough suppressants after the rescheduling of codeine as a prescription only medicine in February 2018. Design: Interrupted time series analysis of sales to pharmacies. Setting: Pharmaceutical sales to community pharmacies in Australia, March 2015 – March 2019. The period January 2017 (month after rescheduling was announced) to January 2018 (month before rescheduling was implemented) was excluded from the time series analysis. Main outcome measures: Monthly pack and tablet sales per 10 000 population of OTC and prescription analgesics, cold and flu products, and cough suppressants. Results: During 2016, 7586 packs and 248 127 tablets of OTC codeine per 10 000 population were sold to pharmacies; in the 14 months after rescheduling, a small level increase in monthly prescription codeine sales was evident (2247 tablets/capsules per 10 000 population; 95% CI, 1231–3264 per 10 000 population). Monthly OTC analgesic sales increased by 258 (95% CI, 151–365) packs per 10 000 population and 37 856 (95% CI, 26 143–49 569) tablet/capsules per 10 000 population. Monthly sales of single ingredient paracetamol (41 415 [95% CI, 31 374–51 456] tablets/capsules per 10 000 population), ibuprofen (1392 [95% CI 916–1868] tablets/capsules per 10 000 population), paracetamol/ibuprofen (1618 tablets [95% CI, 1567–1669] tablets/capsules per 10 000 population), and other paracetamol combinations (233 [95% CI, 112–353] tablets/capsules per 10 000 population) all increased, but not those of prescription analgesic products not containing codeine. Rises for OTC cold/flu products containing the opioid derivative dextromethorphan were small; sales of OTC cough suppressants containing opioid derivatives (dextromethorphan, pholcodine, dihydrocodeine) did not change. Conclusions: The rescheduling of codeine was followed by increased sales to pharmacies of paracetamol, ibuprofen, and paracetamol combination products. While these products carry no risk of dependence, their inappropriate use is also associated with harms that warrant adverse event monitoring.

Original publication




Journal article


Medical Journal of Australia

Publication Date





321 - 327