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The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has called on Australians to return unused prescription opioids to their local pharmacy in an effort to reduce growing opioid-related dependence, illness and misuse.

Almost 150 people are hospitalised each day in Australia as a result of the adverse effects of opioid pain medicines.

The TGA says Australians who prescribed painkillers and don’t use them should not keep them “just in case” for use down the track because they can be dangerous to pets and children if mistakenly consumed and also be a target for theft and misuse.

It is encouraging consumers to return unused pain relief medication to their local pharmacy for safe disposal for free and will roll out a social media campaign and work directly with pharmacies to promote the service.

The TGA says its call reflects broad efforts to reduce the potential adverse impacts of opioids on the health of Australians, pointing to its 2018 decision to up-schedule codeine to prescription only as an example of strategies that have led to drops in opioid supply.

Data from IQVIA shows the total volume of products containing codeine supplied in Australia during 2018 was 50% lower than the average total supplied in the previous four years.

Significantly, the TGA did not find an increase in the supply of high-strength codeine following up-scheduling, with the data indicating patients who previously took over-the-counter codeine did not switch to other opioids.

Codeine containing medicines are linked with health risks including addiction, liver damage, blood potassium imbalances and respiratory depression and the decision to up-schedule the drug was based on evidence showing low-dose codeine combined with paracetamol or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or aspirin were generally no more effective than non-codeine medicines.