24 February 2018

ACT adopts national approach to methadone treatment but programs still needs reform

| Tim Benson
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Opioids (iStock image).

The ACT Minister for Health and Wellbeing, Meegan Fitzharris, announced on Friday (23 February) that the ACT has fallen in line with other states and territories and has adopted the Federal Government’s National Guidelines for Medication-Assisted Treatment of Opioid Dependence.

These guidelines outline how methadone and buprenorphine, which are only legal with a treatment plan, are made available to dependents in the ACT.

In the ACT, methadone is provided as a syrup and buprenorphine as a wafer that is dissolved in the mouth.

“The adoption of the national guidelines will align the ACT with other jurisdictions and ensure national consistency of opioid management treatment, without affecting the delivery of local opioid maintenance services or programs,” Minister Fitzharris said.

“The national guidelines make it clear there needs to be an approach to treatment that combines both medication and psychosocial support for people who are opioid dependent. The guidelines apply to both correctional and community settings.”

The RiotACT spoke to local Canberra pharmacist and owner of several Canberra pharmacies, Matt Develin, to gauge the impact of the new guidelines.

“There are no changes of major significance that will be introduced as a result of adopting the national guidelines,” Mr Develin said.

Mr Develin also said the adoption of national guidelines was ‘well overdue’.

“I believe that anything that brings significant issues, such as the distribution of opioids to dependents, under national guidelines, is a good thing,” Mr Develin said.

The national guidelines will be supported by updated Controlled Medicines Prescribing Standards for clinicians and an ACT-specific document called Opioid Maintenance Treatment in the ACT: Local Policies and Procedures.

“The new Opioid Maintenance Treatment in the ACT: Local Policies and Procedures document will ensure that the adoption of the national guidelines supports the continued delivery of services in the ACT and provides comprehensive ACT-specific information for clinicians and consumers,” Minister Fitzharris said.

Although Mr Develin welcomed the ACT’s adoption of the national guidelines, he said more reform was required.

“There is a need to speed up the process to get people into a treatment program as it can take between two to four weeks for some vulnerable people to get in to see a doctor,” Mr Develin said.

Although treatment can start on the day of assessment, this long lead time to see a doctor that can prescribe, may leave some heroin users continuing to use for longer than necessary.

Do you think the ACT Government should do more to get people, dependent on heroin, faster into treatment programs? Share your thoughts by commenting below.

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