Press release - Prescribing drugs of dependence

Apr 23, 2015

Inconsistent and confusing regulations, a lack of knowledge amongst practitioners and inadequate IT systems are all contributing factors impacting on patient safety and making prescribing drugs of dependence a significant area of medico-legal risk for doctors said Avant, Australia’s leading medical defence organisation.

Avant released a position paper on drugs of dependence which identifies practical ways to improve the way that they are prescribed, monitored and regulated.

Download copy of position paper 

“The concerning rates of prescription drug-related deaths and other associated dangers to patients are well documented with a long list of coroners calling for change,” said Dr Walid Jammal, Senior Medical Advisor at Avant.

“Doctors are also falling foul of a flawed system.”

The call for change comes after a survey conducted by Avant found that there are shortfalls in the education of doctors around prescribing drugs of dependence.

The overwhelming majority of doctors surveyed agreed that more education is needed on the legal aspects (95% of GPs, pain specialists and psychiatrists) and on the clinical aspects (89% of doctors surveyed) of prescribing drugs of dependence.

“Since 2009, Avant has seen a 56% increase in calls made to our medico-legal advisory service about prescribing drugs of dependence and many doctors are still unaware of or don’t completely understand their legal obligations.”

“Often doctors want to clarify what authorities they need to prescribe a drug of dependence for longer than two months or if the patient is drug dependent.”

Dr Jammal highlighted that this is difficult as the definition of ‘drug dependence’ varies from state to state.

“Avant is seriously concerned that the confusion surrounding prescribing drugs of dependence is putting patients and practitioners at risk. There are a number of practical changes that can be made to assist doctors in this complex area.”

The survey also found that three out of four GPs strongly agreed that a national real-time prescription monitoring system would help their clinical practice.

Further, virtually all doctors surveyed would find such a system helpful (99% of doctors including GPs, pain specialists and psychiatrists around Australia).

“Doctors are stuck, it’s like they’re prescribing blind as they don’t have the benefit of the complete clinical picture,” Dr Jammal said.

“Avant is adding its voice to those of a number of coroners, health groups and colleges calling for a national real-time prescription monitoring system as a matter of urgency. It is one practical consideration that will help doctors overcome some of these challenges by providing patient medication history.”

Avant’s position paper supports: 
  • continued and further education and guidelines for doctors on their regulatory obligations
  • implementation of a national real-time prescription monitoring system
  • improving clinical support tools within medical software to support doctors at the point of prescribing
  • harmonisation of relevant legislation and regulation.
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