Doctor shopping prevention scheme ‘long overdue’ in Queensland, says former drug addict
At the height of his prescription drug addiction, Scott could not go more than six hours without a fix.
He was taking 50 pills a day, with Xanax, Valium, Mersyndol and Stilnox among his favourites.
He said his addiction might have been prevented by real-time prescription monitoring and has joined a chorus of medical experts criticising the Queensland Government for failing to set up such a scheme.
Last July, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt offered $16 million in funding for states to implement real-time monitoring.
On the same day, the Victorian Government announced it was spending almost $30 million of its own to introduce a drug-monitoring system, while a non-mandatory version has been in place in Tasmania since last year.
The Queensland Government is yet to announce any intention of introducing a system in the state, and has said it is a “big ask” from the Federal Government.
Now drug-free for two years, 33-year-old Scott, said it was “too easy” for him to doctor shop and is astounded he went undetected for 12 years — a period where he lied to more than 20 doctors in two different states.
Scott said he also manipulated family members into helping procure drugs for him by getting prescriptions written in their names.
Scott said his addiction started innocently when he was prescribed the minor tranquilliser Xanax for stress and mild insomnia, but that one nightly tablet quickly became multiple daily doses of several different drugs.
“I was really good at playing the victim, and I was really good at using guilt and shame and making them feel sorry for me,” Scott said.
“A lot of these doctors were really responsible and they were prescribing them to me how they should have been prescribed. But because I had multiples that they weren’t aware of, then I was getting a lot higher volume.”
Governments accused of playing politics with health
Addiction expert and AMA Queensland vice-president Jim Finn said the scheme should have been introduced years ago.
“Queensland can afford to do it if we prioritise it. We regard it essential for the health of Queenslanders. It is urgently needed,” Dr Finn said.
Pharmacy Guild vice-president Queensland Chris Owen suggested the State Government was playing party politics with health.
“Real-time monitoring is the only way to save lives. It is the only way forward,” he said.
“Whether it is a cost issue or a political issue we don’t really care, just get it done.”
Mr Hunt has said repeatedly the monitoring scheme fell under state jurisdiction.
“It remains the decision of each state and territory as to what medicines are monitored within their jurisdiction,” a spokesperson for Mr Hunt said.
But Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles said the federal money would be better spent on a national monitoring program.
“This is not about political fighting, this is about ensuring we find the most appropriate system that has been properly tested to ensure patients, doctors and pharmacists all benefit,” he said.
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners Queensland chair Dr Bruce Willett said the Queensland Government’s apparent reluctance to implement a live monitoring system was “unfathomable”.
“It is very frustrating — people are dying, they are being harmed while this fight is going on,” he said.
“It is not appropriate for this to be going on as a blame game like this. It certainly seems like it is just politics.”
Prescription drug deaths exceed road toll
Under the proposed system, instant alerts would be provided to doctors whose patients received multiple supplies of high-risk prescription medications.
In 2016, 1,808 people died in Australia as a result of prescription medication use.
Of those, 332 were Queenslanders, which is higher than the 2016 state road toll.
Scott said real-time monitoring would have “stopped me in my tracks”.
“I would hate for anyone to have to go through and become the person that I had to become to feed my drug addiction,” he said.
A Queensland Health spokesperson said it was monitoring the Victorian SafeScript program, due to go live in 2019.
The spokesperson also said mandatory weekly reporting by pharmacists of drug usage was “very effective”.
But Dr Willett said it sometimes took months for GPs to be alerted about dangerous doctor shopping.