Fix drug supply loopholes

September 12, 2017

Prescription drugs are often too easy to access in the country.

A former illicit drug user-turned-mentor has backed claims around medication accessibility, which highlight a culture of serious addiction caused by systemic flaws in prescription methods.

Kyabram’s Teen Challenge personal trainer, and former addict, Simon Gilboy said prescription drugs were often too easy to access.

Mr Gilboy, who was addicted to illicit drugs for a number of years and now mentors a small recovery team, said: ‘‘One of our guys said when he went to the the doctor, he would always make up symptoms, he would make up problems, and because the doctor had to take that seriously he was often able to get the drugs he wanted.

‘‘A lot of people have had this same experience, and when it comes to any addiction, I think some doctors will form a relationship with you and believe in you and support you, but with others it can be very impersonal or transactional.’’

According to Australia’s Annual Overdose Report for this year, published by the Pennington Institute, accidental death from oxycodone, morphine or codeine is responsible for most opioid-related deaths, and there has been a marked increase in overdose deaths in regional areas.

An employee of one Goulburn Valley doctor’s clinic has spoken out on condition of anonymity.

The employee, who has worked in the clinic locally for a number of years, said various attitudes and strategies towards the treatment of illicit and prescribed drug addiction within the industry needed improvement.

While she said she believed a majority of doctors were careful in their prescription of opioid medications, there were some within the industry who would tend to prescribe as a quick fix. The employee said she had heard of instances where doctors would prescribe boxes of medication without properly taking a patient’s circumstances into consideration.

‘‘There is definitely an issue within the industry to turn to medication as a Band-Aid solution, and a lot of the time it’s because the doctors feel incredibly pressured,’’ she said.

‘‘Sometimes a doctor doesn’t feel comfortable to say no, and it’s a lengthy process to link them (the patient) in with services to check up on them and to spend that time, but ultimately it’s going to continue if they don’t look at things more holistically.’’

The employee said patients could put pressure on a doctor, and those who had serious addictions knew there was a criterion to present to get medication.

There are measures in place to keep a rein on such behaviour, through doctor-shopping services and liaison with pharmacies and other clinics, but the employee said there could be loopholes if policies were not followed correctly.

‘‘Our doctors usually put those measures in place when it’s someone they suspect has an issue with addiction, but there are still ways around it if the patient is new to our clinic and we don’t have any past history,’’ she said.

‘‘Prescription medication is a lot easier to get a hold of than illegal drugs, especially if the patient knows what to say to a doctor in order to meet the criteria.’’

The Victorian Government earlier this year announced in its yearly state budget an initiative to increase control and implement real-time prescription monitoring in Victoria to address the issue.

The initiative will involve the roll-out of a software system to over 1900 medical clinics, 1300 pharmacies and 200 hospitals throughout the state, as well as training and support packages for doctors and pharmacists. It will allow access to the medication supply history of high-risk medicines for the patient at the point of consultation.

The vast majority of all drug-related deaths, about 74percent, are accidental, and the issue is increasingly impacting middle-aged Australians, according to the Pennington Institute report.

Accidental death has consistently increased during the past 15 years, and the Shepparton clinic employee said she believed the underlying issue was largely down to stigma.

She said she had observed a backward attitude towards those addicted to drugs from some within the industry, and the issue, which spread into wider society, was one which contributed to the alienation of patients. Many addicted to drugs were only focused on accessing drugs, and were unable to see the bigger picture of accessing help.

‘‘I personally believe the prescription of drugs should be used as a last resort in most cases, and tactics such as therapy and linking them with programs and services to help them is underrated,’’ she said.

‘‘At the end of the day, you can prescribe them medication and they’ll take it, but those issues are still going to be there and, being a part of the medical field, it’s our job to help them.’’

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