Rules restricting opioid medication for palliative care patients wound back

Clare Holland House hospice in Canberra. Picture: Elesa Kurtz
Clare Holland House hospice in Canberra. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Recent changes restricting the access of prescriptions opioids for palliative care patients to manage pain have been reversed following talks between industry organisation and federal health bodies.

From October 1, those in palliative care requiring prescription opioids for pain relief such as oxycodone, will no longer need a second party to sign off allowing their use.

Changes brought in earlier this year by the Therapeutic Goods Administration limited the amount of prescription opioids that could be issued at one time.

Under those changes, those requiring use of the opioids for extended periods needed to be referred to a pain specialist or have a second medical opinion in order for the medication to be prescribed.

When the changes were brought in, palliative care organisations expressed concern patients would not be able to access the treatment they need.

However, those changes were reversed following recommendations put forward by Palliative Care Australia and the Australian Medical Association.

Under the revisions, palliative care nurses can undertake the secondary review, or the secondary review can be removed entirely if it is not required.

"The Department of Health have restructured the current listings in order to reduce the additional administrative burden," a federal health spokesman said.

"These changes will simplify the process for requesting authority approval from Services Australia and ensure prescribers will not be required to repeat the same information for each authority application."

Palliative Care Australia national clinical advisor Kate Reed said the use of prescription opioids was not just for patients who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Opioids are often used by palliative care patients to help manage pain and also breathlessness associated with their illnesses.

"While recognising that safety regulations are required to avoid health risks linked to opioids, the issues of addiction and misuse are not critical factors for palliative care patients," Ms Reed said.

"We must continue to work together to support effective and timely pain management for these patients, helping to maintain their quality of life as much as possible."

Upon the introduction of the opioid restrictions, the federal health department said the measures were there to help reduce increasing addiction rates.

At the time, advocates said it severely impacted upon those who needed the medication for pain relief.

Calvary Hospital, which manages the Clare Holland House hospice, said staff had been involved in the consultation process to help wind back the opioid restrictions.

"These changes are welcomed by palliative care clinicians and will help pain management for palliative care patients and others living with chronic pain and life-limiting illness," a Calvary spokesman said.

"The changes will mean that patients in Clare Holland House and all settings can receive the medications they require to manage pain."

This story Opioid restriction changes wound back first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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