16 February 2024

“Your chance to sign up and make a difference”: The RACGP program boosting care for people with opioid dependence

The Royal Australian College of GPs (RACGP) is encouraging Victorian GPs, future GPs, and nurse practitioners to boost their skills in helping patients with opioid dependence.

It comes amid a severe shortage of doctors prescribing medication for opioid dependence. The College has responded by relaunching its Medication Assisted Treatment for Opioid Dependence (MATOD) training program.

RACGP Victoria Chair Dr Anita Munoz urged those eligible to sign up.

“This is an opportunity to make a difference and learn more about these lifesaving medicines,” she said.

“The face of opioid dependence is changing, with more people facing addiction to pain medications such as codeine or oxycodone. Our detailed training builds expertise to support people with opioid dependence, and safely administer medication assisted treatment, which is the top line form of treatment for people with opioid dependence. It involves patients taking medications such as buprenorphine or methadone to safely wean themselves off opioids and stabilise their lives without experiencing excruciating withdrawal. It’s been proven to work; we just need more doctors delivering the treatment.”

Dr Munoz said the program addresses a pressing need.

“There is a severe nation-wide shortage of GPs who regularly prescribe the medications used to treat opioid dependence and Victoria is no different,” she said.

“We want to change that, so no one misses out on the care they need. Timely care and treatment, including medication assisted treatment, can make all the difference. Our program aims to increase awareness and boost the number of GPs, future GPs, and nurse practitioners able to help people with opioid dependence. 

“Doctors who have already completed the training say it’s practical and useful for daily practice, giving them confidence to safely help their patients. It is a comprehensive and flexible program, designed to fit in around the busy lives of GPs with online or hybrid training options. I encourage all GPs and future GPs to sign-up to better understand this rewarding area of medicine.

“There is so much more work to be done in this space, including helping more people access medical interventions to treat opioid dependence. One area where we need a long-term solution is a soon to be introduced ban on GPs administering opioid dependence treatment medicines as a private script. The federal Government offered a temporary reprieve until 30 June this year; however, we need to make it permanent. We are supportive of increased access to opioid dependency therapy through pharmacy, but GPs still have a vital role to play.

“We must also keep fighting the stigma surrounding alcohol and other drug use, including opioid dependence. There is nothing to be gained from putting these patients in the ‘too hard basket’ and throwing the book at them in the judicial system, they need care and understanding, and the right kind of treatment. It’s really the same as patients with diabetes accessing lifesaving insulin. Medicated assisted treatment is a medical intervention that can help people turn their lives around.”

Last year, the RACGP applauded the Albanese Government’s decision to add lifesaving opioid dependence treatment medicines to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. The College also welcomed the Government delaying the impending ban on GPs administering opioid dependence treatment medicines, such as long-acting buprenorphine, as a private script until 30 June this year.

report from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre found that there were 1,788 drug-induced deaths Australia-wide in 2021, with opioids including morphine and oxycodone the primary opioids involved in overdose deaths, followed by heroin.

The MATOD training offers the flexibility of online-only training or a hybrid model of online and face-to-face options. The online MATOD program is a self-paced, self-guided online program, with modules designed to boost confidence and understanding of the basic concepts of opioids before identifying ways to implement opioid agonist therapy in practice. The hybrid option consists of some self-guided learning online, as well as face-to-face workshops led by an experienced GP who is a current prescriber of opioid agonist therapy. Those taking part can interact with their peers, learn from others, share their own insights, take a close look at clinical scenarios, and ask plenty of questions.

The program is continuing professional development (CPD) approved activity under the RACGP’s CPD program, and on completion all participants will be recognised as an authorised prescriber for medication assisted treatment for opioid dependence.

Media enquiries

Journalists and media outlets seeking comment and information from the RACGP can contact John Ronan, Ally Francis and Stuart Winthrope via: