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13 May 2020

Online training for GPs to tackle alcohol and other drug use during the COVID-19 pandemic

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is boosting the skills of GPs so that they can better address alcohol and other drug (AOD) use problems that are becoming more pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the $7.9 million initiative funded by the Federal Government the RACGP will deliver the Alcohol and Other Drugs GP Education Program, which is tailored to meet the needs of GPs in all corners of Australia.

The program will encourage participation from rural and remote GPs and assist doctors in treating at-risk groups including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and LGBTQI individuals.

Essential skills training will provide a skills update for GPs wanting to improve their approach to conversations about alcohol and other drug use and is now available to all RACGP members through a self-directed e-learning module on gplearning.

Treatment skills training will be delivered via “AOD live” online workshops and self-directed e-learning modules.

Delivered via video conferencing between May and November this year, AOD live training provides participants with the opportunity to listen to presenters, interact with each other and discuss cases in small groups as well as receive feedback from AOD expert GPs. Alternatively, treatment skills can be completed at a GP’s own pace through an online self-directed e-learning module on gplearning.

In addition to these opportunities, Project ECHO® provides a further opportunity to join a small-group online case discussion series and learn more about treating AOD patients in the current COVID-19 environment. This is available to all RACGP members via a series of free weekly online sessions from mid-2020.

It will enable participants to talk to other GPs, including those who are expert in AOD issues, about their own experiences and share tips on how to help patients who have alcohol and other drug use issues.

RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon said that there had never been a more important time for GPs to boost their skills in helping people with alcohol and other drug use issues.

“Substance use problems are growing worse during the COVID-19 pandemic due to a range of factors including anxiety about whether they or are a loved one will contract the virus, increased social isolation, loss of employment and disruptions to daily routines such as exercise.

“People are not seeing family and friends as often or at all and there so much uncertainty about what will happen next.

“So it is no surprise we are seeing increases in alcohol and drug use. Instead of sticking our heads in the sand, we need to further improve the skills of GPs to help these people. We can’t control how long this pandemic and resulting social restrictions will last but we can control our primary care response to it.

“GPs are ideally positioned to support patients with their drinking and other drug use during this difficult time.”

The RACGP President said that the program would provide practical help for GPs.

“This is a really exciting opportunity that will assist GPs on the frontline help people address their substance use problems without fear of stigma or shame.

“People use alcohol and other drugs for a wide variety of reasons including in response to crises and most Australians will not become alcohol or drug dependent.

“But for some their alcohol or drug use is causing harm. For example, the number of Australians who are misusing their prescribed pain medication is on the rise and the COVID-19 pandemic is seeing an increase in problematic alcohol and drug use.

“When a patient needs help we must ensure GPs are equipped with the skills to help them get on the right path.

“Doctors already have access to a range of evidence-based resources. However, the gap we have identified is in providing practical ways that GPs can support patients who find it difficult to talk about their alcohol intake, misuse of prescribed medications or other drug use.”

Chair of the RACGP Addiction Medicine network Dr Hester Wilson said that the program will provide tailored training for doctors working in different communities and settings.

“Substance use is a complex subject, there is no one size fits all and there are many reasons why people turn to alcohol and other drugs.

“However, this pandemic and resulting stresses placed on people right across Australia will see a second ‘wave’ of mental health issues and resulting alcohol and drug use. So we need to make sure that GPs are prepared and able to do all they can to help patients.

“We certainly haven’t forgotten about rural and remote GPs. Video conferencing software will be used to deliver online training sessions so that doctors living outside of our cities don’t miss out on this great learning opportunity.

“Training GPs in the bush is essential because residents in remote regions of Australia are particularly at risk for drug and alcohol misuse. GPs working in these areas are sometimes isolated and treating patients with complex morbidities.

“We must ensure they are equipped with the training they need to help their patients. They are often working without real-time support from colleagues or experienced allied health professionals.”

The program will help GPs:

·       talk openly to their patients about alcohol and other drug use

·       work collaboratively with colleagues to develop a whole-of-practice approach to the prescribing of pharmaceuticals to treat pain, insomnia and anxiety

·       implement best practice approaches to safely and effectively support patients presenting with alcohol and other drug use problems to minimise harm and improve health and wellbeing

·       learn about effective AOD patient assessment, harm minimisation, withdrawal and weaning as well as pharmacotherapy options (e.g. methadone treatment) and treatment pathways.

The RACGP will collaborate closely with PHNs, Local Health Districts and other alcohol and other drug treatment service providers to ensure local treatment pathways are promoted.

There will also be advanced skills training available for GPs who will be required to take on a leadership role and share what they have learnt with their practice colleagues.

You can learn more here.

Media enquiries

Journalists and media outlets seeking comment and information from the RACGP can contact:

John Ronan

Senior Media Advisor