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High Risk Medication Use Awareness in Gippsland

Gippsland Primary Health Network (PHN) is helping raise awareness of prescription medication misuse with Gippsland opioid prescribing rates exceeding the Victorian average.

Gippsland PHN has delivered the SafeScript training across the region with over 160 general practitioners, pharmacists and other support staff participating.

SafeScript is being introduced state-wide and provides doctors and pharmacists with a notification when a patient has previously been prescribed a high-risk drug. The Victorian Government successfully trialled SafeScript in October last year.

Gippsland PHN Chief Executive Officer, Amanda Proposch, said SafeScript provided doctors and pharmacists with information about people’s medication history to enable them to make better decisions about their care.

“Our research has found that opioid prescribing rates are high across the region, far exceeding Victorian rates, especially in the Latrobe and East Gippsland areas,” Ms Proposch said.

“Prescription medications have an essential role in health care. However, when certain high-risk medications are used long-term, or are accidentally or intentionally misused, their effects can be very dangerous and even fatal.”

Opioid and benzodiazepine medications are the key contributors to the increasing number of overdose fatalities in Australia.

Ms Proposch said it was possible to become dependent on opioid or benzodiazepine medications without realising it. The body can develop a tolerance which lessens the medication’s effectiveness and means more and more is needed to get the same effect. When use stops suddenly, withdrawal symptoms can happen.

Statistics show that in Australia, more people are dying due to the use of some prescription pain and sedative medications than on our roads. In Victoria alone, the number of people lost to prescription medication overdoses exceeds the road toll and has done for the last five years.

Ms Proposch said people who had been prescribed these medications by their health professional could become dependent on using them, particularly if they were using them regularly or for a long time.

She said health professionals could help Gippslanders arrange a thorough assessment of their medications.

“A treating health professional can discuss what you’re experiencing, and tailor a treatment plan to help,” she added. “Help to reduce the risks associated with using opioids and benzodiazepines is also available.”

Ms Proposch said SafeScript would not prevent people from obtaining medicines needed to manage medical conditions; the decision to prescribe or supply a prescription medicine would still be made by your doctor or pharmacist.

Gippsland PHN is also supporting the national Medication Dependence Prevention Month in May. The annual campaign is run by ScriptWise, a not-for-profit organisation that aims to prevent prescription medication misuse and overdose fatalities in Australia.

A dedicated helpline (1800 737 233) is available to support people with concerns about their use of high-risk prescription medicines.

DirectLine is Victoria’s free and confidential 24-hour telephone counselling service. Telephone 1800 888 236.