Drugs, Poisons And Controlled Substances Amendment (Real-Time Prescription Monitoring) Bill 2017 Second Reading

7 Sep 2017

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I rise to speak on behalf of the Greens to the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment (Real-time Prescription Monitoring) Bill 2017. The Greens will be supporting this bill which, as described in the bill, enables a database to be established for purposes of recording data relating to the supply of monitored poisons. In this bill monitored poisons are referred to as schedule 8 poisons. That schedule covers opioids such as pethidine, morphine and oxycodone and, in addition to that, some other high-risk medications are also included. We certainly support this bill and the provision of that real-time monitoring database.

When we talk about issues associated with drug use, drug abuse and drug overdoses, we often talk about ice and heroin and other illegal substances but the reality is far different. We know that a significant percentage of overdoses actually come from prescription drugs. I think the Coroners Court, in the evidence they provided to the inquiry into drug law reform, really told the story. In their analysis the illegal drugs made up less than 20 per cent of overdose deaths, and pharmaceutical drugs actually were double that — on their own, I would add. But when pharmaceutical drugs were combined with other drugs they actually played a role in 80 per cent of overdose deaths.

This really does tell a different story. The advice in the coroner’s submission was that, and I think this is something we should certainly always heed:

To date in Australia there has been a widespread tendency when examining drug-related harm, to focus only on a particular drug or group of drugs that are perceived to be ‘the issue’ at a given point in time … the evidence supports a conclusion that drug misuse needs to be approached in a holistic manner, rather than one drug at a time.

I think that is good advice which we could all heed. That coroner’s report also noted that the coroner has 21 times recommended a real-time prescription monitoring system. I will read into Hansard an example of one of those recommendations from a coroner:

The Victorian Department of Health implement a real-time prescription monitoring program within 12 months, in order to reduce deaths and harm associated with prescription shopping. The program should include the following functionality: (a) a primary focus on public health rather than law enforcement; (b) recording of all prescription medications that are prescribed and dispensed throughout Victoria without exception; (c) provision of real-time prescribing information via the internet to all prescribers and dispensers throughout Victoria without exception; (d) a focus on supporting rather than usurping prescribers’ and dispensers’ clinical decisions; and (e) facilitating the ability of the Victorian Department of Health to monitor prescribing and dispensing to identify behaviours of concern.

Certainly this has been recommended by the coroner and by many others for a long period of time, so it is welcome that it is going to come into effect should this bill pass. There are far too many people in this state who are struggling with addiction, whether it is illicit drugs or large quantities of prescription drugs, just to get through their day, and there are far too many people dying from an overdose.

I think it has been mentioned by previous speakers that the primary law and order or crime-based response simply does not work, and we have had expert after expert calling for a more health-focused drugs policy. From time to time we do see that put in place and this is an example of that, but there are other times when it goes in the other direction. So it is great to see this bill putting something in place that will work. Real-time prescription monitoring is sensible, it is pragmatic and it will work.

It does not debate whether a person is good or bad or bring any moral questions into it. It will save lives, and it will allow doctors and pharmacists to make those sorts of informed choices about when they prescribe and dispense drugs. It will help to identify people who are struggling and hopefully offer them the support they need. Certainly we believe the support that will need to be provided to people is absolutely key, because the legislation will see some people suddenly having their access to medications that they have been using and potentially abusing cut off or significantly reduced. We know that they will not just go home and live happily ever after. They will need support, whether it is from counsellors, from rehabilitation services or from social workers. That really is important.

I also note a coroner’s recommendation or finding of a significant link between mental health issues and substance abuse. The support will absolutely be key, and we know that there is a lot of hard work done by frontline alcohol and other drug workers. Ending addiction for people is a hard slog, it is a tough road, and those alcohol and other drug workers really do play a key role. There is still too long a wait for many people who are seeking treatment or rehabilitation for drug addiction, and we need to support those people.

Real-time prescription monitoring is obviously one part of the health-based approach to dealing with drug use. We also have the issues around illicit drugs in terms of the need for a safe injecting room in North Richmond, where you have far too many people in this one area of our state dying from overdoses. You have got the community, you have got local residents, you have got everyone in that community onside and calling for this safe injecting facility, and we certainly think that it is now time for the government to act.

Another thing that the Greens have been calling for is a pill testing and reporting regime, whether that is the police testing — and they do test the drugs they seize — and releasing that information out into the community where it will inform people about their choices; whether it is setting up an independent testing facility where people can take their drugs to be tested and information is made available on significantly dangerous drugs; or whether it is having pill testing at festivals.

We know there have been deaths in the Prahran community recently, and we think that a pill testing and reporting regime would have helped to prevent those deaths and will help to prevent deaths into the future. I will certainly be urging the government to take those steps. That said, we support the bill and the real-time prescription monitoring because this is about those individuals, those sons, those daughters, those mothers, those fathers who have shone really bright in the lives of their families and friends but have had their lives cut short. That leaves a big hole in the lives of their family and friends. This bill and other measures are about them, and I certainly commend this bill to the house.

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