ScriptWise panelists

A panel of Bendigo health professionals discussed preventing the harms associated with medication dependence at Bendigo TAFE on Tuesday.

The event was coordinated by ScriptWise, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to preventing prescription medication-related harms.

Local experts discussed the upcoming statewide implementation of SafeScript, a system that provides doctors, pharmacists and other health professionals with access to patients’ prescription histories for high-risk pain and sedative medications.

SafeScript was rolled out last October in western Victoria by the state government, before an upcoming state wide release in April.

According to the minister for health Jenny Mikakos, SafeScript has alerted doctors and pharmacists in Western Victoria to almost 3300 patients at risk of harm or overdose due to medication use.

Across the state, 414 Victorian lives were lost due to prescription medicine overdoses in 2017.

The issue has also hit close to home, with 49 people dying in Greater Bendigo due to an overdose death involving pharmaceutical medications between 2009 and 2015, according to data from the Coroners Prevention Unit.

Bendigo general practitioner Gary Bourke used the forum to discuss the issue of opiate prescribing and how it has changed in recent times.

“When I look back on it, 10-15 years ago, there was a change in trying to manage acute pain better, particularly post operatively, by being a bit ‘freer’ with the use of opiates,” Dr Bourke said.

“There was good rationale for it, because if people didn’t have their acute pain managed properly, they could develop chronic pain.

“We (the medical profession) didn’t realise how little time you need to be on opiates to start to develop a dependence though.

Dr Bourke stressed the importance of the doctor-patient relationship when prescribing medication, with awareness and understanding the key.

“The most important thing is that the doctor spends time with the patient and treats them as an individual,” Dr Bourke said.

Regional pharmacist and panellist Toni Riley has welcomed  SafeScript, saying it will be a decision-support tool to help doctors focus their thinking around prescribing.

“SafeScript will be mandatory for all doctors when prescribing and pharmacists when dispensing and as of April and it will be integrated into their existing systems,” Ms Riley said.

“Our role as pharmacists isn’t to pass judgement, but to get the conversation started and reduce the stigma.”

Nicholas Nakos