Painkillers containing codeine will require a prescription in Australia from 2018 amid concerns over misuse. Under current laws, codeine can be obtained in compound form in over-the-counter painkillers and cough medicines.

But Australia’s drug regulator believes the risk of addiction is too great.

The decision brings Australia into line with most developed countries in requiring a prescription for the opioid-based medication.

The US, most of Europe, Hong Kong and Japan have stopped the sale of over-the-counter codeine products.

Australia’s Therapeutic Drugs Administration (TGA) said consumers often became addicted to the drug.

“Misuse of over-the-counter codeine products contributes to severe health outcomes including liver damage, stomach ulceration, respiratory depression and death,” it said in a statement.

The new rules will begin on 1 February 2018.

The TGA recommended patients discuss new treatment plans with their doctors, including whether to use painkilling alternatives such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.