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Transcript of interview with Sabra Lane: ABC AM: 28 July 2017: real time monitoring for controlled prescription medicine; Listing of Hepatitis C drug Epclusa; eating fresh food; citizenship

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The Hon. Greg Hunt MP Minister for Health Minister for Sport


28 July 2017



Topics: Real time monitoring for controlled prescription medicine; Listing of Hepatitis C drug Epclusa; eating fresh food; citizenship

SABRA LANE: Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt, good morning and welcome to AM.


Good morning, Sabra.

SABRA LANE: This plan for real time monitoring, is it about stopping people from accidentally overdosing on prescription meds, or identifying people who doctor shop, or identifying addicts?


In fact it’s all three of the above. Many people will use prescription drugs, and in some cases they will develop an addiction.

That will be an accidental process, and if you think of them as the very strong prescription drugs such as morphine, or oxycontin, or fentanyl. We know that there have been approximately 600 deaths a year.

So it’s about addicts. It’s also about those who are accidentally caught up, and those who are involved in prescription shopping.

And whether it’s the AMA, or the College of GPs, or health professionals across the country, there’s been a view for a long while but we need a real time, instant alert system, so as pharmacists and doctors can identify whether or not somebody has been shopping for prescription drugs which are of the strongest variety, which can then be hoarded, either sold, or in some cases used for improper purposes. And with 600 deaths a year, it’s time to take a real stand.

SABRA LANE: Practically, so if a patient buys a listed drugs in Albury New South Wales and then slips across the border to Wodonga in Victoria, for example, to get the script filled again, will that trigger an alert?


Yes. So at present, there’s no means of comparing and seeing whether or not there is an over-frequency of purchasing of, as you call it, prescription shopping. There’s broad support from the pharmacists, the doctors, the medical communities, and the states. This is something that we’re going to deliver now over the course of the next 18 months.

The investment is $16 million, but much more importantly than that, is the commitment for the first time to have a genuine safeguard and protection for those who are legitimately using these controlled and dangerous painkillers and medicines.

SABRA LANE: Sorry Minister, you’re investing $16 million, the Victorian Government set aside $30 million during its last budget, last year for a rollout of this scheme. How much will it cost to fully rollout a scheme, and to run it every year?


Well we’re confident that the amount that we’ve got will set it up. And we will have more advice on the annual operating costs, but it’s something in which the Commonwealth will deal with.

The Victorian Government funding, I think, covers a range of other elements as well. But now we will have, for the first time, a genuine, national, real time monitoring scheme to protect against the abuse of very dangerous prescription drugs.

If you think of morphine, we know in the United States that oxycontin has become a very widely abused drug, fentanyl.

Important drugs that can help people with their conditions, but when they’re hoarded, when they’re used in an oversupply situation, we see 600 deaths a year. So it’s time for the country to do something about this, and we are.

SABRA LANE: You’re also announcing the listing of a new drug, Epclusa, on the PBS today, to treat hep C patients, making it cheaper for them to receive the drugs.

Australian researchers earlier this year said they thought that hep C could be eradicated by 2026. You’ve said it can be done by 2030. Why not aim for 2026?


Well we will aim to do this as quickly as possible. We’ve set a timeframe, and I’d like to start immediately. This drug, Epclusa, helps the 200,000 Australians who are currently dealing with hep C. And again here we see 800 deaths.

And this has the potential for a success rate of 90 per cent. I’m hopeful that we can well and truly beat our deadline, but for the first time we have an eradication deadline for hep C. But much more importantly, right now Epclusa will be available.

That’s the potential for a 90 per cent, not just treatment rate, but a success rate. And that means we can really work towards eradicating and controlling this condition, which can be so hard for so many Australians.

SABRA LANE: The Managing Director of Coles is concerned that the cost of living pressures that are facing Australians right now, are forcing some families to buy junk food instead of fresh foods. How worried are you as Health Minister, that ultimately that will translate to poor health for families?


Well, we do have to deal with cost of living, it’s the number one issue for the vast majority of Australians, and we’re working on electricity and of course we took away the carbon tax and saw the largest drop in electricity prices, in health …

SABRA LANE: But on the substance itself, his point, how worried are you by that?


Well, cost of living is critical. So, bulk billing and the availability, as we’re talking now, of pharmaceutical medicines through the PBS are critical.

Now in terms of food, of course the supermarkets have the ultimate control above more than anybody else over the pricing of food.

But in particular our task is to help Australians from all walks of life understand that fresh food can not only be cheaper, but is critical to good health and couple that with exercise as the AMA have been saying this week, it can be gentle modest exercise, the Prime Minister’s Walk for Life Challenge, and those are the keys to providing the basics for good health.

So as much as possible I would encourage people to use fresh food, and fresh food and simple home preparation can be significantly cheaper to the extent that the supermarkets have control and influence over prices. They are in a position to assist people to make healthy choices.

SABRA LANE: And Minister, given the citizenship uncertainty hovering over MPs, should there be an audit conducted by Parliament into the citizenship status of all MPs as it’s a shadow looming over the entire Parliament?


Well I think the presumption is that everybody is an Australian citizen and if there are individuals, or individual cases that are raised where there’s a legitimate concern then it will be up to each individual to clarify that.

SABRA LANE: So that’s a no to an audit?


My view is that if there are individual cases, raise them, and individuals can deal with them. Either way effectively it would go through this process of an audit at each election, when each of us signed a declaration that we are an Australian citizen and only an Australian citizen and that we’re in compliance with Section 44 of the Constitution.

SABRA LANE: Health Minister, Greg Hunt, thanks for talking to AM this morning.


Thanks very much