A move by the federal government to crack down on the over-prescribing of opioids has upset GPs who say it risks unfairly targeting some doctors.
Earlier this month Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy sent a letter to almost 5000 GPs who prescribe the most opioids, warning them of the risks of dependence on the drugs.
“Seventy percent of all fatal opioid overdoses in Australia involve prescription opioids and pharmaceutical opioid deaths now exceed heroin deaths by a significant margin,” the letter states.
The doctors’ prescriptions will be monitored over the next 12 months and they could face restrictions on practice or being struck off, News Corp Australia reports.
“Australia has a significant opioid problem,” Health Minister Greg Hunt told News Corp.
“The Department of Health reserves the right to refer any egregious cases to the Professional Standards Review, but the evidence is that once doctors are aware that their practices are out of alignment, it can have a moderating impact on behaviour.”
But the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners earlier flagged concerns over what’s been seen as a heavy-handed approach with the Department of Health.
RACGP president Dr Bastian Seidel warned it risks targeting those with legitimate reasons to prescribe the drugs, including doctors working in palliative care.
On the RACGP’s website one anonymous doctor said the letter had been “intimidating and unhelpful”.
The doctor said that alternatives to opioids for chronic pain, such as pain management clinics, often have very long waiting lists.
“We don’t have a lot of alternatives, and putting the blame on GPs is totally unhelpful.”