On February 1st, 2018 codeine became a prescription-only drug in Australia. This includes advertised brand names such as Panadeine, Panadeine Forte, and Nurofen Plus.
What this means is that no over the counter medications purchased in Pharmacies or Supermarkets will contain codeine or opiates. This includes painkillers and cold and flu tablets.
This may have implications for many workplace Drug and Alcohol testing policies, specifically for declared medications.
The arrival of the cold and flu season also ushers in many positive results via on-site urine and saliva tests. It’s not uncommon to see a surge in the number of employees testing “positive” for codeine.
Codeine is an opiate, therefore it would appear on the OPI test strip or area of an on-site device. This is mostly due to the wide use of codeine in many over-the-counter preparations.
This was treated as “declared medication.” Consequently, the employee would remain on-site until the confirmation of results in the laboratory.
However, this flu season, the only medications that will generate a positive result for OPI will be a prescription-only product.
What this means for most policies is that you need to declare the medication prior to the test. And if confirmed in the laboratory, you may need to discuss it with the company doctor.
The days of saying “it’s probably just something I bought from the Chemist for this cold” are now well and over.
Another implication for many policies is that with very few exceptions, any non-NEG results (or on-site “positive”) can only legitimately come from prescription medication.
Drugs such as Pseudoephedrine are no longer commonly available now. Furthermore, most test devices are much less likely to detect this drug, than previously.
Why the need for prescription medicine changes?
One reason for the change in legal status for codeine is that it can be a dangerous and addictive drug.
Therefore, all non-NEG results, regardless of which drug class, will be treated with the same degree of seriousness.
In 2018, we also see a slow increase in the use of prescription cannabis in Australia, which needs to be considered in any policy review.
But, as with codeine, the only legally valid reason for having cannabis present is if there is a valid prescription from a qualified Australian Medical professional.
If you have any questions, we’d love to hear from you – call us on 1300 795 227 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note that some employees will continue to have access to codeine preparations bought legally without prescription (prior to Feb 1st) for some months yet.