PHI changes could reignite opioid crisis

doctor with pills

Pharmacists are warned they may see more pain sufferers heading back to prescription opioids and excluded from private care

The Neuromodulation Society of Australia and New Zealand has expressed concerns over recent news that Australians will not be able to access pain management treatments privately unless they hold top-tier Gold policies.

It has started a petition calling for the Morrison Government to guarantee that all existing procedures for pain management, including devices, be made available under Bronze, Silver and Gold policies.

“Pharmacists may see a resurgence of opioid use in this population with the attendant risks of addiction, accidental and non-accidental overdose and need to be aware of this issue,” says Dr Mark Russo, Pain Medicine Specialist Physician, Director-At-Large Neuromodulation Society of Australia and New Zealand, Newcastle:

Dr Russo warns that removal of access for 50% of the insured population “will lead to non-recommended default prescription of opioids by non-pain specialist doctors”.

“This opioid use will not effectively treat their neuropathic pain putting the risk of escalation of dose as a real concern,” he says.

“Distress from the uncontrolled pain and the inability to access effective treatment will mandate increased provision of psychological services on an ongoing basis to try to mitigate the opioid prescription in this cohort.”

The Society points out that Australian strong opioid-related deaths now exceed heroin deaths by two and a half times, and are now responsible for 70% of accidental strong opioid deaths.

Approximately one in three patients prescribed strong opioids for chronic pain misuse them, and up to 12% of these patients develop a strong opioid use disorder, it says.

Nearly three million Australians have reportedly been prescribed systemic strong opioids as part of their treatment plan by health care providers.

The Society says that these numbers may skyrocket should Australian patients be forced to upgrade their insurance, or miss out on pain management treatments, under the changes.

It also warns that the public system is likely to end up taking on a greater burden of management of chronic pain patients.

There are no major savings to be made from excluding chronic pain coverage from Bronze and Silver private health insurance policies, it says.

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