The Government is writing to the top 20% of opioid-prescribing doctors, Health Minister Greg Hunt has told reporters
Australian doctors are the best in the world, Mr Hunt says – but the number of opioid prescriptions being written by some means these doctors are “being considered” by the Department.
“One of the things we’re doing with the medical community is to ensure that we have control over the opioid use in Australia,” Mr Hunt said.
“We know that 2000 people lost their lives over a five-year period to opioid abuse, whether it’s oxycodone, morphine, fentanyl.
“But the AMA and the College of GPs are working with us to make sure that doctors know exactly how many prescriptions they’ve been giving, whether or not they are at the outer edges of prescriptions and therefore they can better moderate and regulate their own actions to protect patients.”
He said that the Department has written to the top 20% of opioid prescribers, with the cooperation of the AMA and RACGP.
“This means that they’re working to ensure that all doctors know where they sit, whether or not they may have inadvertently become over-prescribers, but the vast and overwhelming majority of Australian doctors do the right thing, and overwhelmingly we have the best doctors in the world.”
One journalist asked Mr Hunt to comment on specific cases, including one doctor who prescribed more than 68,000 doses in 10 months and another who prescribed 56,000.
These numbers had been revealed in an article by Sharri Markson, which appeared over the weekend in the Daily Telegraph and which referred to a Government “hit-list” of doctors who overprescribe opioids in a “Donald Trump-inspired crackdown”.
The letter, from Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy, warned prescribers that 70% of all fatal opioid overdose deaths were due to prescription opioids.
Mr Hunt confirmed these numbers, saying they are “accurate and they are being considered by the Department of Health”.
“Now, there may be particular reasons. It could be people who are working in palliative care or with chronic pain. But by having this advice to the doctors who are at the higher end of the prescribing list, I think that’s extremely important and very, very powerful.
“We don’t want to end up in the place that the United States is in where opioids are a national crisis. Here, we are in a much better position.
“But frankly 400 deaths a year is a completely unacceptable number. And so we are going to work to continue to bring that number down.”
Mr Hunt said that he was “very hopeful” that doctors would not need to be struck off the register if they continue to prescribe a lot of opioids, due to the availability of other measures such as “the Department of Health or the Professional Services Review”.