Government wants to avoid US-style opioid crisis
The federal government wants to stop Australia facing a US-style opioid crisis as health authorities work to rein in doctors who are handing out tens of thousands of doses.
Health Minister Greg Hunt confirmed on Saturday one country doctor has handed out 68,000 doses in less than a year and a city doctor has handed out 56,000.
“We don’t want to end up in the place that the United States is in where opioids are a national crisis,” he told reporters in Victoria on Saturday.
Mr Hunt said some doctors may have “inadvertently become over-prescribers” but the vast majority do the right thing, and are among the world’s best.
He said Australia was in a much better position than the US but described the approximate 400 deaths attributed to prescription opioids each year as “completely unacceptable”.
Earlier this month, Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy sent a letter to almost 5000 GPs who prescribe the most opioids, warning them of the risks of dependence on the drugs.
The letter warned 70 per cent of fatal opioid doses came from prescription drugs and opioids had taken over heroin fatalities by a “significant margin”.
Mr Hunt conceded some high-prescribing doctors may be treating patients with terminal illness or chronic pain but said advising select practitioners was important in keeping patients safe.
The doctors’ prescriptions will reportedly be monitored over the next 12 months and they could face restrictions on practice or being struck off.
Mr Hunt said options were available to the Department of Health and the Professional Services Review to pull over-prescribers into line but he was hopeful those steps would be avoided.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners earlier flagged concerns over what’s been seen as a heavy-handed approach.
On the RACGP’s website one anonymous doctor said the letter had been “intimidating and unhelpful”.