Public health

Gong for Newcastle gastroenterologist

The medical landscape has changed drastically since Conjoint Associate Professor Aidan Foy started his career as a medical registrar in the Hunter region of NSW in 1975.

And while the Newcastle gastroenterologist and addiction medicine specialist is now officially semi-retired, he is hardly resting on his laurels.

He still works as a clinical dean at the University of Newcastle and Maitland Hospital and attends regular addiction clinics, and was last month made a Member of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

“I can guess (who nominated him) but I don’t know for sure,” he told the limbic. “It was probably someone I have worked with, everything we do is a team effort so this is really not just about me.”

Professor Foy has made significant contributions to outreach clinics in Indigenous communities in rural and remote NSW through the Medical Specialist Outreach Assistance Program, which has now been running for more than a decade.

While he trained as a gastroenterologist, his strong passion has been in addiction medicine. He was instrumental in the founding of addition residential facilities known as Bethany House for women and children, in 1994, and Brighton House for men, the year prior.

“There is a need to provide good quality accommodation for people undergoing treatment for addiction, especially women with children,” he said. “It allows them to get the appropriate level of support as they work through their treatment. But I was only one of the people involved in this project – everything I do is part of a team effort.”

While the world has changed drastically in his time as a physician, he said the main offender for addiction remained the same throughout the decades.

“There’s no doubt we’ve got some very serious illicit drugs, but it’s always been alcohol and still is,” he said.

And addiction to OTC medications are another age-old problem, he says. These days it’s the OTC combinations of NSAIDs and codeine that he is particularly concerned about. He has seen the effects of long-term and excessive use of these medications, and challenges the popular controversy that the codeine component is the danger.

“It’s the NSAIDs that do the damage to the gut and kidneys,” he said. “Complications are due to the NSAIDs not the codeine.”

He said the regulators should simply act to withdraw these drugs from the market, adding that this did not include paracetamol/codeine combinations.

“It’s really the compound analgesic, not the codeine,” he said. “They’re very dangerous and they should be withdrawn. They should just be taken off the market immediately.”

He likened it to the use of popular Bex and Vincent’s powders in Australia in the 1960s and early 70s. These were available over the counter and promoted as housewives’ pick-me-up and contained aspirin, phenacetin and caffeine.

However, when it was established that these medications had damaging effects on the kidneys and could be potentially carcinogenic they were withdrawn as over the counter medication. In 1983, phenacetin was withdrawn from use altogether.

“Bex and Vincent’s powders were a good example,” Professor Foy said. “People were very addicted to those, but when they were unavailable, they were forced to stop using them.

“The world did not collapse when Bex and Vincent’s were made unavailable. This (NSAIDs and codeine OTC preparations) is a very very similar situation.”

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