REAL-time monitoring of drug prescriptions would help prevent regional registrars from being a soft target for opiate addicts, or those profiting from addiction in the bush, according NSW Nationals delegates.
The party will push for NSW to move in line with Victoria and Tasmania and monitor opiate prescriptions to-the-moment, on the back of a worrying rise in addiction and abuse of drugs that are available, in many cases, over the counter, or by the stroke of a doctor’s pen.
The motion came after Deputy Premier John Barilaro announced 2019 would be about addressing youth and regional drug issues, and improving regional rehab facilities ‘so we don’t lose our next generation’.
We’re seeing people come into pharmacies and leaving with bags full of these drugsNSW Nationals delegate during the Cowra conference at the weekend
The weekend’s Cowra state conference heard the overprescription of opiate drugs was rampant in the regions - particularly among the elderly - with opiate abuse often flying under the radar compared to headline-grabbing methamphetamine issues.
“They’re mostly given originally for a good reason, but rarely are they appropriate for long-term use, and they are causing a lot of problems with addiction,” said Orange delegate Annie Hazelton.
“We’re seeing people come into pharmacies and leaving with bags full of these drugs,” said another.
The man behind the motion for better opiate control - delegate Dr Steven Peterson - had been working on the issue earlier this year, before he was hit by a car on his way to work as an emergency doctor in Orange, becoming a quadriplegic.
He said the intent of the motion was not to outlaw or ban schedule 8 drugs of addiction, including Oxycodone, fentanyl, morphine, and pethidine, but to stop them from being overprescribed in the bush and fuelling dependence, misery, and in many cases, crime.
Dr Peterson said he had heard of people stealing or pressuring their parents to give them their oxycontin, which he said can be sold for $1000 a box on the street.
“They are also a drug on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme - so subsidised by taxpayers - and people should expect there to be better control over how they are distributed,” he said.
Dr Peterson’s original motion, delivered on his behalf by Ms Hazelton, called for doctors of a certain qualification to be allowed to prescribe opiates, and then for a limit on the number of patients per doctor.
“Registrars are only learning how to be GPs,” Dr Peterson said via a video shown to Cowra conference.
“They can be picked on by drug users, and seen as less likely to say no.”
But other delegates, including former Federal Nationals MP Kay Hull, pointed out the bush had an already limited number of doctors and communities could not afford to have their options narrowed further.
An amended motion, worked on by Ms Hull, the original movers, and Federal Nationals MP Dr David Gillespie, was accepted and passed.
It called for “NSW Government to make changes with regards to schedule 8 drugs of addiction so that they are recorded on a Real Time Monitoring system available at hospitals, pharmacies and medical centres”.
The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia and Pharmacy Guild of Australia have previously called for stricter monitoring of addictive drugs.
About a third of the 1800 drug-linked deaths in Australia in 2016 were related to prescription painkillers (up 168 per cent in 10 years) with last year’s Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report stating that most people taking opioids for non-health reasons were sourcing it legally from pharmacists and doctors.
Fentanyl abuse is a particularly worrying trend across NSW.
Last year federal government committed $16 million for a real-time prescription monitoring scheme for addictive medicine, but a national model is yet to be implemented.
A NSW Upper House Inquiry into drug rehabilitation services in regional, rural and remote areas visits Lismore and Grafton next week.