Get with the program

The importance for all community pharmacies to be part of the MedsASSIST program cannot be overstated, says George Tambassis

All pharmacies need to participate if we as a profession are to ensure patients who need medicines containing codeine continue to have access to them in a timely and safe manner.

The MedsASSIST program, developed by the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, is increasingly helping to identify those patients who may be at risk of inappropriate use of these medicines and I urge all pharmacies to be part of this very worthwhile and effective program.

The program is a pivotal element in our argument against the up-scheduling of these medicines to prescription only but the strength of our advocacy must be underpinned by having every pharmacy in the country using the program.

MedsASSIST – which is delivered free of charge to all pharmacies via GuildLink – is in its early stages and at the Guild we are constantly looking at ways to continue its evolution in response to feedback from participating pharmacies and consumers.

One area of concern that has been raised in relation to the program is that some pharmacies using MedsASSIST are finding that at-risk patients are avoiding their pharmacy and purchasing over-the-counter medicines containing codeine at pharmacies which have not adopted MedsASSIST.

At the Guild we are working hard to address this with our aim being that State and Territory Medicines and Poisons regulations are amended to mandate the real-time online recording of codeine supply. However, until this is achieved, MedsASSIST requires informed patient consent and pharmacies should follow the approach outlined in the reference guide resources provided on the MedsASSIST portal.

Community pharmacies using MedsASSIST are absolutely doing the right thing – the right thing by patients and the right thing by the profession. These pharmacies are leaders in ensuring that the wellbeing of their patients is paramount and they are operating in a principled and ethical manner which is a credit to the profession.

I also impress upon pharmacies that if they are not part of the program they are missing an opportunity to help identify patients who may have a medicine misuse or abuse concern and need to be referred to the appropriate support and treatment they require. It can be confusing for the public if there is any lack of consistency of approach in using the MedsASSIST program between pharmacies.

At the Guild we are well aware of the challenge faced by these pharmacies competing with others who are not utilising MedsASSIST and I assure you that we are working hard to address this. To those pharmacies who haven’t signed up to MedsASSIST I urge you to do so now. Every pharmacy that is not using the MedsASSIST program will weaken the argument for preventing over-the-counter products containing codeine being up-scheduled.

The Guild also believes other measures which should be considered to help address the issue include mandatory warning labels advising consumers of the potential for dependence from prolonged use of codeine products (greater than 3 days); reducing pack sizes for codeine (particularly Schedule 3 products) to a maximum of 3 days’ supply; ongoing education for pharmacists; and a consumer awareness campaign.

I would also like to remind pharmacists that if you have encountered any difficulties with MedsASSIST – or have heard of other pharmacies or colleagues who may have concerns with the program – to contact the Guild or call 02 6270 1888. It is our responsibility to act on such feedback.

George Tambassis is national president of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia

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