Overdose report triggers call for action

Australia’s Annual Overdose Report 2019 has revealed that the number of deaths related to unintentional drug overdose, has increased by 38 per cent between 2001 and 2017 and is growing by 3.4 per cent per year.

Of these overdoses, reportedly more than half have been found to involve some form of opioid, namely oxycodone or codeine, which are said to be commonly used for chronic pain management.

This has sparked the Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) to call on the federal government to invest in evidence-based physiotherapy pain management services.

To stop the unnecessary deaths, APA National President Phil Calvert says the government must invest in multidisciplinary pain management services – particularly physiotherapy pain management services.

“Physiotherapy as part of a multi-disciplinary approach is proven to be beneficial in managing and reducing chronic pain conditions,” Mr Calvert said.

Mr Calvert adds that government funding has traditionally gone towards medicines to manage chronic pain conditions but this “simply hasn’t worked”.

He added: “If we’re really going to get serious about this, we need to put the funding where it works best, and that’s in multidisciplinary pain management services.

“Physiotherapists who specialise in chronic pain management must have their treatment subsidised via the MBS.

“It’s the best way to support the growing number of Australians across all demographics whose increasing reliance on opioids for their pain is leading to overdose and, tragically, death in too many cases.”

Responding to this, a spokesperson from Guild agrees this is “disturbing” and “reinforces the point that prescription medicines can very often be life-saving, but they can also be life threatening”.

The Guild has suggested a number of recommendations to help assist with this issue, including:

  • Medication dispensing needs to include assessing if the medicine is safe for that patient.
  • Limiting the quantities of prescribed medicines supplied on each dispensing occasion.
  • Pharmacists have the opportunity to assess medication compliance when a patient returns for a repeat supply of prescription medication – pharmacists can intervene if confusion or an adverse reaction to the medication is identified.
  • Real-time prescription monitoring can alert doctors and pharmacists of potential misuse of prescription medication.
  • A pharmacist can recommend addiction therapy pathways if dependency is detected – the life-saving overdose medication, Naloxone, is available from pharmacists over-the-counter as a pharmacist-only medication.

According to the Guild spokesperson, due to the danger of misuse, “prescription medicines are only dispensed under controlled conditions in a pharmacy … by a pharmacist who has the skills and knowledge – and the responsibility – to ensure they are properly dispensed”.

“It is vital that medicines are taken as directed by prescribers,” added the Guild spokesperson, “and as advised by pharmacists who are medicine experts and can help people avoid overdoses and other risks associated with some medicines.”

If there is concern over medication use, the Guild encourages patients to speak with their pharmacists and in the worst-case, call the Poison Line on 13 11 26 or triple 0, or go to the nearest hospital if an over-dose is suspected.

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