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Further changes to reduce opioid harm

2 June 2020

The Department of Health through the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is continuing to implement a number of regulatory changes to reduce the harm caused by opioid prescription medicines to Australians.

Every day in Australia, nearly 150 hospitalisations and 14 emergency department admissions involve issues relating to opioid use, and three people die from the harm that results. The majority of these admissions and deaths are from prescription opioids.

The changes aim to reduce the number of people who continue to use opioids long-term after starting treatment for short-term pain, for example following injury or surgery. Such long-term use can lead to a number of harms but little benefit. The changes will also allow doctors to implement best practice opioid prescribing for people living with pain while ensuring adequate pain management.

Importantly, the changes will not reduce access to opioid prescription medicine for people with cancer-related pain or those in palliative care.

An Opioids Regulatory Communications Committee has also been established with representatives from healthcare professional organisations, medical specialists and patient and consumer groups to advise on communication and education activities developed to support the regulatory changes.

In consultation with the committee, the TGA has produced the following resources, including answers to commonly asked questions about the regulatory changes:

In addition to the TGA reforms, a number of changes have been made to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). These cover smaller maximum quantities of medicines for the treatment of short-term pain following surgery or injury, changes to the conditions for use and changes to the authority requirements that doctors must follow for modified release opioids to be prescribed under the PBS.

The PBS changes were announced by Minister Hunt and take effect from 1 June 2020.

Together the reforms will enable the safe and effective prescribing and use of opioids while maintaining access for patients who need them.