20 June 2023

RACGP welcomes drug treatment affordability changes

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has warmly welcomed the Albanese Government making lifesaving medications for people with opioid dependence more affordable.

From 1 July, all opioid dependence treatment medicines such as methadone and buprenorphine will be listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).  This means these medications are covered by the PBS safety net, making them cheaper for all patients right across Australia. It comes following the Government announcing a suite of measures in this year’s Budget to boost alcohol and other drug programs and treatment.

RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins welcomed the changes.

“It is great news the Government has heeded our calls and made these drugs more affordable,” she said.

“People with opioid dependence need treatment and support, we gain nothing from throwing the book at them and putting them in the ‘too hard basket’. These opioid dependence treatment drugs make such a key difference in turning someone’s life around because they act on the opioid receptors in the brain to eliminate withdrawal symptoms and relieve cravings. Ask anyone who has experienced opioid dependence and they will tell you how difficult it is to go ‘cold turkey’. Given these drugs are now on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme they are being mainstreamed and normalised, just like insulin for a person with diabetes.”

Dr Higgins encouraged GPs to be prepared.

“GPs play a vital role in supporting and prescribing opioid dependence treatment for their patients, and I’m sure many will be breathing a sigh of relief with the changes coming into effect on 1 July,” she said.

“I encourage all GPs to take steps such as talking to local pharmacies, preparing the move to PBS scripts, ensuring your patients have scripts to tide them over during the transition period and even just advising your patients that this change is a positive thing that will save them valuable dollars.”

RACGP Alcohol and Other Drug spokesperson Dr Hester Wilson backed the President’s comments.

“This is a game changer for alcohol and other drug treatment in Australia,” she said.

“People dependent on opioid drugs such as heroin or oxycodone and whose health is at risk every day, will be able to access lifesaving medications at a cost they can afford. They will no longer have to pay a private pharmacy dispensing fee of between $5 to $15 a day, but rather just $7.30 or $30 per month.

“As reported recently, a key factor holding back more people from getting the help they need is cost. Every life matters and people in communities across Australia with opioid dependence need help to get their lives on track. If we can remove roadblocks, including cost, stopping them from getting treatment – it will save lives.”

Dr Paul Grinzi, a GP with 20 years of addiction medicine experience and author of a recent journal article outlining how GPs can help patients from all walks of life experiencing alcohol and other drug-related issues, also backed the changes.

“This is an historic move,” he said.

“It brings this lifesaving treatment for people of all ages into the mainstream and seeks to change the inequity of patients having to pay significant fees for treatment. We should not be stigmatising people with opioid dependence and demanding that they go without the PBS safety net – that mindset is outdated and will get us nowhere. I believe this change has the potential to increase access to care and given a recent report highlighting that there were 1,788 drug-induced deaths Australia-wide in 2021, it couldn’t come at a more important time.

“People who have a problematic relationship with alcohol and other drugs, including opioids, need help and compassion. Judging them or making the cost of treatment beyond their reach doesn’t achieve anything and, in my view, diminishes us as a nation.”

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