Private opioid dependence scripts extended

Michelle Wisbey

20/11/2023 4:10:36 PM

The Government will allow GPs to continue issuing private prescriptions until June next year, but the RACGP is calling for a permanent solution.

Male doctor consulting with female patient.
Every day, three Australians die from drug-induced deaths involving opioid use.

Highly vulnerable patients have been offered a lifeline, after GPs were granted a seven-month extension to transition to a new opioid dependence treatment model.
The Federal Government delay is aimed at breaking down any potential barriers to care and making treatment options as easy and accessible as possible for all.
The announcement comes after opioid treatment medicines, including methadone and buprenorphine, became available via the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) on 1 July.
This change was welcomed by the RACGP, labelling it a ‘gamechanger’ upon its announcement, allowing eligible patients access to treatment through a PBS co-payment of just $30, or $7.30 with a concession card.
It also meant that from 30 November this year, GPs would have to stop ordering treatments directly from manufacturers to administer in their practice as a private script, potentially adding a roadblock to care for a small, but highly vulnerable, group of patients.
But after a sustained advocacy campaign supported by the RACGP, the Government last week revealed this transition period is being extended until 30 June 2024.
The delay was granted to allow for minimal patient disruption over the busy holiday period.
RACGP Specific Interests – Addiction Medicine Chair Dr Hester Wilson told newsGP she now hopes all parties can work together constructively over the next seven months and find a more permanent solution.
‘In my mind, continued direct access would make sense, so you’ve got more diversity around where people can access their medicines,’ she said.
‘My goal is increasing access and increasing affordability by whatever means.
‘It’s hugely important for them as individuals because these treatments are highly effective – they improve health and wellbeing, and also have positive impacts for their family and community.’
It is hoped the change will prevent those needing the treatment from falling between the cracks while longer-term regimes are worked out.
Dr Wilson said patients needing this specific treatment are often highly marginalised and living in the toughest of circumstances, making it important to ensure care is as accessible as possible for everyone.
‘For this vulnerable group of people, the logistics of getting your $7.30, getting into the pharmacy, paying for the script, getting back to the GP so you can get the injection, that’s difficult,’ she said.
‘If you’re dependent, you feel really rotten, you get headaches, you get nausea, you get stomach pain, you get diarrhoea, joint aches, you feel really anxious, irritable, you can’t sleep and you’re craving that opioid.
‘I want to ensure that people have access to a healthier lifestyle, no matter who they are.’
While the number of Australians living with opioid addiction is hard to measure, the most recent data reveals that in one year, there were 5112 emergency department presentations and 9636 hospitalisations due to opioid poisoning.
Every day three people die drug-induced deaths involving opioid use.
Dr Wilson said the extension would not only benefit patients, but also the already pressured health system.
‘It impacts the whole of our community in terms of cost because people who are not in treatment are more likely to end up in the emergency department, they’re more likely to call an ambulance,’ she said.
‘Particularly when people are starting treatment, we need to make it super easy for them to start, to get to know the people working in the clinic, the GPs, the primary healthcare workers – to trust them.’
RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins labelled the extension ‘the right decision’ that would help GPs provide best practice care.
‘The college is supportive of increased access to opioid dependency therapy through pharmacy,’ she said.
‘However, we believe that GPs still have a vital role to play, and GPs and community pharmacists can and should work together to make sure that as many people as possible with opioid dependency get the help they need.
‘Let’s get these medicines into the hands of more people who need them and save lives. It is the same as patients with diabetes accessing lifesaving insulin, this is a medical intervention that can help people in communities across Australia.’

The RACGP will shortly be releasing the newly redeveloped Medication Assisted Treatment for Opioid Dependence (MATOD) program. Members interested in refreshing their knowledge or completing the new program for the first time can submit an expression of interest to be kept informed on when the course will be live.
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