Changes to opioid prescribing
While opioids play an important role in providing pain relief for many people, the Australian Government, through the Department of Health, has implemented a number of regulatory changes to minimise the harms caused by opioid prescription medicines to Australians each year.
The changes will ensure the safe and effective prescribing and use of opioids while maintaining access for patients who need them.
The changes may affect Australians accessing opioid medicines through Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme (PBS) arrangements and eligible veterans accessing them through the DVA Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme (RPBS).
Since 1 June 2020, the regulatory changes require opioid ‘sponsors’ (pharmaceutical companies) to:
- register smaller pack sizes for immediate-release opioids that will provide a more appropriate option for short-term pain relief, for example after injury or surgery, and reduce the risk of harm from unused opioids (the existing larger pack sizes will still be available for those who need them)
- add additional warning statements to the approved Product Information for all opioids to remind doctors (and other prescribers such as nurse practitioners) of the appropriate circumstances for opioid prescribing and potential adverse effects
- improve the information available to prescribers and consumers to encourage best-practice prescribing and to be better informed about the potential risks with opioid use and how to minimise them
- update prescribing ‘indications’ (the circumstance/s for use) for opioids to ensure patients are prescribed an opioid only where the benefits outweigh the risks.
There have been various changes to the PBS to support the regulatory changes, for example funding for smaller quantities, changes to the ‘indications’ (conditions for use) that will be funded, and changes to the authority process that doctors must follow for opioids to be subsidised.
From 1 October 2020, additional changes came into effect, including:
- unrestricted access to opioid medication for palliative care patients
- restructuring of the current listed opioid medicines into initial and continuing treatment phases to help simplify the prescribing process.
Please see your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions about your prescribed opioid medicines. We encourage your doctor to contact the Veterans Affairs Pharmaceutical Advisory Centre (VAPAC) on 1800 552 580 if they have questions about prescribing opioid medicine through RPBS arrangements.
More information about the changes to opioid prescribing can be found at:
- PBS Revised opioids PBS listings from 1 October 2020
- TGA Prescription opioids: Information for consumers, patients and carers
If you need support, Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 1800 011 046 or openarms.gov.au.