GPs encouraged to upskill in opioid dependence treatment

Morgan Liotta

16/02/2024 3:53:22 PM

An RACGP program aims to help GPs better understand this ‘rewarding’ area of medicine and boost authorised prescriber numbers.

GP talking to patient
The Victoria-based program will upskill GPs in supporting patients with opioid dependence, and is also hoped to address a national shortage of prescribers.

The RACGP has re-launched a training program to help deal with a severe shortage of doctors prescribing medication for opioid dependence.
The Medication Assisted Treatment for Opioid Addiction (MATOD) program is designed to help Victorian GPs, GPs in training, and nurse practitioners upskill and potentially become authorised prescribers.
A ‘snapshot day’ across Australia in 2022 showed while there were 2982 authorised prescribers of opioid pharmacotherapy treatments, not enough GPs regularly prescribe these medications.
Victoria already has the most GPs prescribing pharmacotherapy (91%) among all jurisdictions with available data, but State Government funding is supporting the college to help those numbers grow.
Since each state and territory has their own standard of training requirements for prospective pharmacotherapy prescribers, the RACGP’s current program is solely for those in Victoria, and funded by the state’s Department of Health.
And while there are currently no plans to expand the program nationally – each state and territory has its own requirements for prospective pharmacotherapy prescribers – RACGP Victoria Chair Dr Anita Muñoz said the program is nonetheless helping to address a ‘severe’ national shortage of prescribers.
‘We want to change that, so no one misses out on the care they need,’ she said.
‘Timely care and treatment, including medication-assisted treatment, can make all the difference.
‘Our program aims to increase awareness and boost the number of GPs, future GPs, and nurse practitioners able to help people with opioid dependence.’ 
Last year, the RACGP welcomed new PBS listings of opioid treatment medicines such as methadone and buprenorphine for eligible patients. The Federal Government then delayed a ban on GPs administering opioid dependence treatment medicines as a private script until 30 June this year – a decision also welcomed by the college, albeit with a desire to see a more permanent solution in place.
Dr Muñoz said this push in only part of the work that still needs to be done in the space of helping people access medical interventions to treat opioid dependence.
‘We need a long-term solution [on] the soon-to-be introduced ban on GPs administering opioid dependence treatment medicines as a private script,’ she said.
‘The Federal Government offered a temporary reprieve … however, we need to make it permanent. We are supportive of increased access to opioid dependency therapy through pharmacy, but GPs still have a vital role to play.’
The MATOD program offers participants flexible, self-guided online and hybrid learning modules designed to boost their confidence and understanding of the basic concepts of opioids before identifying ways to implement opioid agonist therapy in practice. Face-to-face workshops will be delivered later this year by current prescribers.
In addition to networking opportunities and peer support, participants can earn up to 21 CPD hours, making it a valuable opportunity for professional development, according to Dr Muñoz, who calls on those eligible to sign up.
‘The program is an opportunity to make a difference and learn more about these lifesaving medicines,’ she said.
‘Doctors who have already completed the training say it’s practical and useful for daily practice, giving them confidence to safely help their patients. It is a comprehensive and flexible program, designed to fit in around the busy lives of GPs.
‘I encourage all GPs and future GPs to sign-up to better understand this rewarding area of medicine.’
With rates of addiction to prescription pain medications such as codeine or oxycodone rising, Dr Muñoz said the MATOD program is designed to better equip GPs with the ‘changing face of opioid dependence’.
‘Our detailed training builds expertise to support people with opioid dependence, and safely administer medication-assisted treatment, which is the top line form of treatment for people with opioid dependence.
‘It involves patients taking medications such as buprenorphine or methadone to safely wean themselves off opioids and stabilise their lives without experiencing excruciating withdrawal. It’s been proven to work – we just need more doctors delivering the treatment.
‘Medicated-assisted treatment is a medical intervention that can help people turn their lives around. It’s really the same as patients with diabetes accessing lifesaving insulin.’
The MATOD program is a CPD Approved Activity and on completion all participants will be recognised as an authorised prescriber for medication-assisted treatment for opioid dependence. More information on the program’s modules, eligibility and how to apply is available on the RACGP website.
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