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Wednesday, 21 April 1999
Page: 4020

Senator CROWLEY —My question without notice is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Aged Care, Senator Herron. Does the federal government continue to support naltrexone clinics for heroin addicts? In particular, is the minister aware that Victoria's only naltrexone clinic is seeking to take on an extra doctor and expand its facilities in order to provide assistance to heroin addicts? Does the minister support the provision of these services to heroin addicts in Victoria or does the minister sympathise with those whose opposition to such clinics is based on the `not in my front yard principle' simply because of the unkempt nature of some of the clients using the facilities?

Senator HERRON (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs) —Senator Crowley raises a very important question about naltrexone and its availability. Naltrexone is registered for two uses in Australia: as part of the treatment program for alcohol dependence and to assist in the maintenance of patients who have stopped using opioids such as heroin and morphine. The government is acutely aware of the plight of many people who are addicted to heroin and the consequences of this addiction for the wider Australian community.

The government is also committed to obtaining independent advice through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee on the cost-effectiveness of any drug before it can be subsidised on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. This is consistent with the government's commitment to making evidence based decisions on Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme listings.

In view of the importance that the government places on the proper management of heroin addiction, it has decided to give high priority treatment to naltrexone by fast-tracking its consideration of the subsidy on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Officers of the department are working closely with the sponsor of the drug, who is assembling the necessary evidence in support of its application.

Senator Conroy —Answer the question.

Senator HERRON —Following the consideration of this evidence, the pharmaceutical benefits subsidy could occur from August this year—much earlier than the standard approach.

For Senator Conroy's information, I have no brief in relation to the particular instance that Senator Crowley has referred to. I will refer that to the minister to get further advice on that for Senator Crowley. I thought it was important, however, to seize the opportunity to state that it is being fast-tracked for consideration. The application for the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme listing can relate only to one or both of the purposes for which naltrexone is registered in Australia—namely, as part of a treatment program for alcohol dependence and/or to assist patients who have stopped using opioids such as heroin or morphine.