Improving opioid safety

16 July 2020

In Australia, pharmaceutical opioids are now responsible for more deaths and hospitalisations than illegal opioids such as heroin, which has contributed to the recent changes in regulations and to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) changes to prescription opioids.

The changes have seen smaller quantity packages and restrictions around opioid prescription for the treatment of pain. There has also been a push for greater education around opioid safety and keeping naloxone in the home. 

In line with the new regulations, the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia has developed a cautionary advisory label to warn consumers about the risk of opioid overdose and dependence.

Label 24 (see image) can be applied to opioid medicines during dispensing and can support pharmacists to counsel patients about the safe use of opioids. Pharmacists have also been advised to provide the opioid medicines patients information handout to any patient receiving opioid medicine.

A recent project with pharmacies in the Illawarra Shoalhaven evaluated training for pharmacists in promoting medication safety and the provision of overdose prevention resources. The evaluation found that the use of visual aids such as warnings on prescription repeat folders, prompted discussion with consumers about overdose risk and medication safety. The project was undertaken in partnership between the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District (ISLHD), COORDINARE and Illawarra Local Drug Action Team, supported by the University of Wollongong (UOW).

For more information, click here or visit the Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA) website.

Consider checking the suite of Opioid pathways under the Drug and Alcohol section of Illawarra Shoalhaven HealthPathways or ACT & Southern HealthPathways for localised information, including details specific to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

Drug and alcohol, HealthPathways, Quality in general practice, Team based care