Minister challenged on pharmacist naloxone role

The Health Minister has announced a commitment of $7.2 million to pilot a take-home naloxone program in Australia – but there’s no mention of pharmacy

This week Greg Hunt announced that the Morrison Government will provide $268 million to continue support for Australians battling drug and alcohol issues, including the naloxone pilot.

This pilot project is set to take place over two years.

“In partnership with the States and Territories, a THN [take-home naloxone] program will expand availability of naloxone to a range of additional settings frequently accessed by at-risk groups,” the Minister said.

“Concurrent to the pilot, the Commonwealth has provided over $100,000 funding to the Burnett Institute to undertake research, with the National Drug Research Institute, into the key principles and features of a nationally consistent THN model in Australia.

“The findings of this research will complement the ‘on the ground’ findings of the pilot, which will enable the THN model to be refined to a national rollout.”

Angelo Pricolo, the harm minimisation proponent and Brunswick pharmacist who made the submission to the TGA that naloxone be downscheduled to S3, told the AJP that the Minister has a good opportunity at the upcoming APP conference to explain to Australia’s pharmacists how the network of 5700 pharmacies will be encouraged to stock, supply and counsel on naloxone use.

Mr Hunt should consider the pharmacy role in this sector, said Mr Pricolo, who will present on harm minimisation at the conference next week.

“Pharmacists are ideally placed to save lives,” he told the AJP.

“I’m not sure why we are not at the forefront of any initiative to supply a medicine that can reverse the ever increasing number of opioid overdoses.

“We need access to the PBS directly for our patients to eliminate the need to push patients away that don’t have a prescription for naloxone.

“Especially now with the introduction of nasal naloxone, Nyxoid, pharmacists should be able to charge PBS prices to patients at risk of death from opioid overdoses,” he said.

“It would be great to hear Minister Hunt endorse pharmacy by allowing us to access the PBS for our most vulnerable and marginalised patients. The patients we look after every day, we just get on with it with very little federal recognition or support.”

Meanwhile Mundipharma welcomed the THN pilot announcement, which followed Mr Hunt’s recent announcement that Nyxoid, Australia’s first intranasal naloxone spray, would be registered by the TGA.

Jane Orr, Managing Director of Mundipharma Australia and New Zealand said the THN pilot program was a significant step toward ensuring Nyxoid is readily available to any person at risk of overdose or likely to witness an overdose.

“It is wonderful that the Government has recognised the need for this medication and a national THN access program,” Ms Orr said.

“Today’s announcement will be a great relief for clinicians and stakeholders who have highlighted the need to broaden the availability of naloxone and acknowledged that cost remains a barrier to universal access.”

Minister Hunt launched a report from Penington Institute and funded by Mundipharma in September 2018, which recommends that:

  • Naloxone be provided free-of-charge through key distribution points (e.g. needle and syringe programs, mental health services, pharmacies and hospital emergency departments);
  • People who inject drugs, people prescribed strong opioids, soon-to-be released prison inmates, and friends and family of people who use opioids have easy access to naloxone;
  • More professions, such as nurses and pharmacy staff, are authorised to supply naloxone to achieve national consistency.

As well as the naloxone announcement, Mr Hunt also said the Government would provide $268 million over three years to Primary Health Networks for alcohol and drug services.

“From 1 July 2019, PHNs will receive $45 million a year for alcohol and other drug treatment services which will provide stability to services and meet the needs of local communities,” he said.

“Withdrawal management and rehabilitation services currently receiving Government funding can apply for a share of $29 million a year in continued funding to provide evidence-based treatment services for individuals most in need.

“Four national research centres will receive $24 million over three years to continue to undertake research into alcohol and other drug issues including the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction, the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, the Centre for Youth Substance Research and the National Drug Research Institute.

“Additionally, funding of $4.9 million a year will continue for alcohol and peak drug organisations and complementary national treatment sector capacity building activities.

“This announcement provides continuity of important drug and alcohol treatment and support services and complements state and territory funding.”

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1 Comment

  1. Jarrod McMaugh

    Angelo should be congratulated for his hard work in the area of making naloxone more readily available to people who need it, but I think everyone knows the answer to this particular question:

    “I’m not sure why we are not at the forefront of any initiative to supply a medicine that can reverse the ever increasing number of opioid overdoses.”

    The answer is because pharmacy is failing to take up this opportunity.

    Angelo drove the change that made naloxone available without prescription a number of years ago. In that time, the number of pharmacies that range these products has not materially increased.

    I am the strongest proponent for pharmacists (all aspects of our sector) to be included in all initiatives and policy development where medicines and health are involved, but it is an uphill battle when we don’t show that we will actually deliver when we are needed

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