Solutions needed on medicines abuse

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Real time monitoring could drive people with prescription drug addictions to heroin, say substance abuse stakeholders

Late last week Painaustralia, the Faculty of Pain Medicine and the Australian Pain Society issued a joint press release expressing concern that implementing real time monitoring nationally was putting the “cart before the horse” without additional pain management and treatment options.

Now, stakeholders are worried that the Victorian system, SafeScript – which has rolled out in one Primary Health Network ahead of statewide implementation next year – may have unexpected consequences.

Sam Biondo, the executive officer of the Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association, told the ABC that SafeScript could reduce the number of deaths due to prescription drugs in Victoria.

But he is also worried that if the system is not managed optimally, a “new cohort of heroin addicts” could be created, writes ABC reporter Danny Tran.

Professor Dan Lubman, the director of Turning Point, said that “those who are dying are not what the community consider to be a ‘typical drug user’, but are people who became hooked on prescription drugs for pain,” he said.

“And when it’s restricted, they go for heroin.”

Well-known drug reform advocate Alex Wodak said this was likely to happen in Australia.

“These programs don’t achieve their objectives, and often they’re accompanied by severe risks,” he told the ABC.

In response to the article, Pharmacy Guild Victorian branch president Anthony Tassone told the AJP that the Victorian government policy around real time prescription monitoring also includes some funding for treatment and support of patients who have a prescription medicine dependency concern.

“The Guild along with other stakeholders in the health sector and consumer organisations are advocating for the importance of ensuring there is sufficient resources to help treat and support this potential new cohort of patients,” he said.

“It’s one thing to identify a problem, it’s another to help treat, support and resolve the problem.

“The Guild stands ready to assist the Victorian Department of Health and Human services as they evaluate the first stage of the rollout of SafeScript in the Western Vic PHN. This initial experience will help inform what support services may be necessary going forward.”

Meanwhile, in this week’s edition of Forefront, Guild national executive director David Quilty writes that Health Minister Greg Hunt, as well as Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy and patient advocates, are to be congratulated on moving the national system forward with the appointment of Fred IT to head the job.

“It is the patient advocates who have made the real difference,” Mr Quilty writes.

“I was honoured recently to attend an event at Parliament House in Canberra hosted by ScriptWise, which is devoted to reducing the harm to Australians from prescription medication misuse.  

“At the briefing, which was led by ScriptWise’s inspiring founder and patron Kim Ledger (father of Heath) and its incredibly committed CEO Bee Mohamed, a number of mothers, fathers and sisters who had lost loved ones to prescription medications told their personal stories, making clear that a national real time prescription monitoring system is needed to help save lives.

“As these inspirational advocates pointed out, real time prescription monitoring is not a panacea but it is an absolutely essential tool to help clinicians identify at-risk patients who are doctor shopping enabling earlier action in providing the assistance and support they need.”

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