Strong painkiller medicines belonging to the opioid class, such as codeine, morphine and oxycodone, are a health concern due the high number of deaths and hospitalisations with these drugs.
Every day in Australia 3 people die and 150 are hospitalised because of harm from pharmaceutical opioids. The Government has taken steps to further limit their use in the community.
Commencing 1 June 2020, these medicines will now only be available in smaller pack sizes with no repeat prescription for non-chronic pain (eg post-operation or after extensive dental work). To be eligible for treatment with opioids, patients will need to be unresponsive or intolerant, or have achieved inadequate relief of their acute pain with non-opioid medicines.
For patients who require long-term treatment of chronic pain, opioid medicines will still be available in larger pack sizes and as a repeat prescription. However, there will be restrictions on their use. Patients will be referred to a pain specialist or alternative prescriber for clinical review if opioid use exceeds or is expected to exceed 12 months.
Doctors and pharmacist groups have welcomed the changes. They hope that patients will recognize that these medicines are not to be used long-term and that patients need to talk to their doctor about pain relief.
Comments from Dr Hester Wilson
Chair of the RACGP Addiction Medicine network Dr Hester Wilson said that, “Limiting quantities and repeats is only one step towards reducing the harms that can result from opioids”.
“Unfortunately, I fear some people who have their opioid prescriptions limited will find it hard to give up and some may turn to black market alternatives.
“We need to be alert to that and government must ensure that there are enough treatment services available in as many locations as possible because substance use affects all communities
“I also think that we need to be much more proactive in helping patients with alcohol and other drug problems, including prescription drugs and illicit drugs.”
Opioid medication in the workplace
Opioids can have impairing side-effects which can affect workplace performance and safety. Common side-effects include loss of concentration, decreased co-ordination, confusion, and drowsiness.
Workers taking opioid medication must have a valid prescription and should be assessed as “fit for work”.