Pharmacy Guild NSW Branch president David Heffernan has expressed exasperation with the state’s inaction when it comes to real-time monitoring

“It is confounding to hear that the NSW Ministry has no strategy in place for a real-time monitoring system, as reported from a recent NSW coroner’s hearing,” he writes in his President’s Desk address to NSW Guild members.

“The AIHW report clearly demonstrates deaths from prescription medications have soared past deaths from illicit drug use.”

In May 2018, Mr Heffernan and PSA NSW president Peter Carroll wrote to NSW’s Health Minister Brad Hazzard and its Chief Pharmacist Judith Mackson, urging them to implement such a system.

The call followed an inquest held into opioid-related deaths in which Ms Mackson told Deputy State Coroner Harriet Grahame that, despite government commitments to implementing real-time monitoring in the state, NSW was waiting for the Federal Government before it took action.

Ms Mackson reportedly claimed there were logistical difficulties in NSW setting up a system on its own.

The AIHW report referred to by Mr Heffernan showed a 24% jump in prescriptions for opioids between 2010-11 and 2014-15, due partly to a 60% increase in prescriptions for oxycodone.

Meanwhile Victoria’s Safescript system is due to go live later this year, with codeine having recently been added to the list of medicines to be recorded. Other jurisdictions such as the ACT and Tasmania are setting up their own systems using DAPIS Online Remote Access (DORA).

But in NSW, “Without real-time monitoring, the deaths will continue,” Mr Heffernan writes, pointing out that using the TGA’s justification, deaths from prescription codeine had outpaced formerly-OTC low-dose codeine by five to one.

“Meanwhile, we continue to see pharmacists getting themselves in trouble with authorities from prescribing or dispensing outside guidelines, subjecting themselves to high level court proceedings and sanctions,” he says.

“A search on the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) case law reveals a sorry litany of health professional misfortune (majority doctors) and is evidence the authorities are heavily active in pursuing doctors and pharmacists on poor prescribing/dispensing.

“Would this case law exist with a real-time monitoring system?”

Mr Heffernan writes that such a system is the only way to make prescribers accountable and protect the public.

“Why does the NSW bureaucracy drag their knuckles on this issue?”