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New system to crackdown on prescription painkiller abuse

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Minister for Health


12 February 2012

New System to Crackdown on Prescription Painkiller Abuse

The Gillard Government will set up a new $5 million national electronic records system to combat abuse of controlled drugs including prescription painkillers, said Minister for Health Tanya Plibersek.

The Electronic Recording and Reporting of Controlled Drugs system will be made available to doctors, pharmacists and state and territory health authorities across Australia to monitor the prescribing and dispensing of addictive drugs in real time.

“While controlled drugs such as oxycodone, morphine and codeine play an important clinical role in managing pain, abuse of these drugs can cause enormous harm and is a growing problem in the community,” said Ms Plibersek.

“Following calls from coroners, law enforcers and consumer groups for greater control over distribution of the drugs, the Gillard Government is pleased to be making this electronic system available.”

Ms Plibersek said health professionals and administrators will be able to immediately detect people suspected, for example, of trafficking in painkillers, forging prescriptions and “doctor-shopping.”

“The new records system will be able to flag patients in real time who have repeatedly sought controlled drugs, helping to prevent people from inappropriately using the drugs or selling them to others.”

Health professionals will be able to access a centralised database over a secure computer network, which will contain prescription history records.

“If a pharmacist determines it is not clinically appropriate to dispense a medicine to a patient, it is their duty of care to restrict access to that patient.”

This information will enable state and territory health department regulators, pharmacists and prescribers to minimise the abuse of these medicines while also ensuring necessary access for consumers who have a legitimate need for these important medicines.

The amount of prescription opioids used in Australia is growing. According to the Internal Medicine Journal, the total value of Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme opioid prescriptions increased from $2 million in 1992 to $7 million in 2007.

Ms Plibersek said the Electronic Recording and Reporting of Controlled Drugs system was first developed by the Tasmanian Government.

The Gillard Government has signed a licensing agreement with the Tasmanian Department of Health and Human Services and will make a nationalised system available to states and territories, which are responsible for monitoring controlled drugs, from July this year.

“The system has proved popular among Tasmanian health professionals where it has been operational for more than a year.”

Currently, some states use paper-based prescription records, which are slow and require significant resourcing, while electronic recording in others states is inconsistent between jurisdictions. A national electronic system will allow pharmacists

to check on prescription records from other states.

Drugs that will be monitored on the system are listed under Schedule 8 of the Standard for the Uniform Scheduling of Medicines and Poisons, which is administered by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

Abuse of controlled drugs can have severe health and economic consequences such as addiction, disruption to families, loss of work productivity, risk of blood-borne diseases for injecting drug users, depression, anxiety, overdose and even death.

For more information, please contact the minister’s office on 02 62777 7220