21 November 2023

RACGP welcomes opioid dependence medicine decision

The Royal Australian College of GPs (RACGP) has warmly welcomed the Albanese Government acting to stop vulnerable patients who rely on opioid dependence treatment drugs falling between the cracks of our health system and called for the Government to pursue a long-term solution.

Earlier this year, the College applauded the Albanese Government’s decision to add lifesaving opioid dependence treatment medicines, such as methadone and buprenorphine, to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), which will result in patients facing out-of-pocket costs of $30 a month, rather than $5 to $15 every day. However, as part of the changes, GPs who have been ordering treatments directly from manufacturers to administer in their practice had to stop doing so from 30 November.

RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins said that the Government had listened to the concerns of the RACGP and delayed the impending ban on GPs administering opioid dependence treatment medicines, including long-acting buprenorphine, as a private script until 30 June next year.

“This is the right decision,” she said.

“The delay will ensure that there is minimal disruption to patient care over the busy holiday period and give the state and territory governments more time to transition patients to Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme arrangements or to implement alternative opioid dependence treatment access arrangements for patients.

“As I have said previously, the College is supportive of increased access to opioid dependency therapy through pharmacy. However, we believe that GPs still have a vital role to play, and GPs and community pharmacists can and should work together to make sure that as many people as possible with opioid dependency get the help they need. Let’s get these medicines into the hands of more people who need them and save lives. It is the same as patients with diabetes accessing lifesaving insulin, this is a medical intervention that can help people in communities across Australia.”

RACGP Alcohol and Other Drug Spokesperson Dr Hester Wilson backed Dr Higgins’ comments and called for a long-term solution.

“This decision is just what the doctor ordered, and it will help save lives,” she said.

“I understand that the Department of Health and Aged Care will be working with the states and territories to make sure that GPs have continued access to long acting injectable buprenorphine and has encouraged those jurisdictions which restrict pharmacies from administering Schedule 8 drug injections to amend their regulations.

“This is another positive step forward, but let’s not stop here. I call on the federal Government to not only delay the proposed changes to 30 June 2024, but instead find a long-term solution that allows direct access to long-acting buprenorphine. Otherwise, we may well see negative impacts on some of our most vulnerable patients who rely on this treatment. There is so much more we can do to help people with alcohol and other drug problems, and that includes ensuring that all patients have access to the care and treatment they need. At the end of the day, every life matters, it’s as simple as that.”

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