Opioid Treatment Program
The Hon. JAN BURNSWOODS: My question is addressed to the Minister for Health. What is the latest information on the Government's opioid treatment program?
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS: I can advise the House that guidelines are being implemented by NSW Health to support the introduction of a newly available product called Suboxone, which will better help opioid dependent patients beat their addiction and improve the safety and effectiveness of the opioid treatment program. The New South Wales guidelines for Suboxone are complementary to the national clinical guidelines that were endorsed at the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy, which I attended in Perth on 15 May. Use of the treatment was approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration in July 2005, and from April 2006 it has been available through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
NSW Health has carried out an evaluation of the benefits to people on the opioid treatment program, and that evaluation demonstrates a substantial improvement in the physical and mental health of participants with many able to work and lead normal lives. The effectiveness of the program in relation to crime reduction is well documented. The Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research and the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre have documented the decreasing crime rates among persons on opioid treatments. The changes being made are aimed at further improving the safety, delivery and effectiveness of these services.
The guidelines will ensure that doctors authorised to prescribe the new treatment will be experienced pharmacotherapy prescribers who have satisfactorily completed the relevant training module offered by the Chapter of Addiction Medicine. In addition, authorised prescribers will be required to participate in a review of the introduction of the treatment during the first 18 months of operation. This review is part of a multi-jurisdictional study into the different ways Suboxone will be provided in three different States. New South Wales will be leading the study in partnership with Western Australia and Victoria.
The New South Wales Government is working also with professional medical education organisations, divisions of general practice and medical colleges to reduce red tape and establish training programs so that there is an increase in the number of general practitioners who are able to provide treatment. Normalising the lives of patients is an important aspect of successful treatment. For appropriately stable patients this means they should be managed within a local setting where they can retain their connections with their family and friends, maintain stable employment and be contributing members of society. The Government is therefore moving away from large private methadone clinics and is encouraging the increased involvement of pharmacies and general practitioners in the delivery of services.
A statewide action team has been established to work with general practitioners and pharmacies to support their engagement with the New South Wales opioid treatment program. The changes I have indicated are based on clinical evidence and are aimed at better helping patients beat this awful addiction. The Government is committed to helping these patients recover so that they are able to lead normal, productive lives.