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New Reports Highlight Need for Action on Opioid Dependence Treatment Attention: open in a new window. PDFPrintE-mail


Moreland, VIC, June 22nd, 2011 – The release of two new reports further underlines the need for change in Victoria’s approach to providing treatment for opiate dependence. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare National Opioid Pharmacotherapy Statistics Annual Data collection: 2010 report (http://bit.ly/AIHWreport) provides evidence of the steady increase in the number of Australians using Opiate Replacement Therapy (e.g. methadone and buprenorphine) to manage and/or overcome opiod dependence.

The report shows that, during 2010, over 2,600 additional people throughout Australia made use of opioid pharmacotherapies, bringing the national total to 46,078. For the same period, there were only 14 new prescribers of those medications, making 1,449 nationally.

Acting CEO Donna Ribton-Turner stated that these findings again highlight the structural limitations on the availability, and ultimate effectiveness, of a key component in the treatment of opioid dependence:

Ms Ribton-Turner said:

The benefits of methadone treatment have been thoroughly demonstrated by years of local and international research. Opiate replacement therapy (ORT) is the bedrock for countless people around the world as they battle a severe addiction.

ORT provides a platform of stability on which people can rebuild their lives. It allows them to remove themselves from the chaos and cycle of criminal activity generally associated with illicit opiate use and to re-engage with society.

Unfortunately, current systems for the prescription and distribution of this medication are under-resourced and overburdened by demand. There is a severe undersupply of ORT prescribers and dispensers (particularly in rural and regional areas) in Victoria. We need rapid action to remove the multiple barriers that currently exist to prevent Victorians gaining the maximum benefit from our opioid pharmacotherapy programs.

Ms Ribton-Turner called on the Baillieu Government to implement the recommendations of its Victorian Pharmacotherapy Review (undertaken by the Drug Policy Modelling Program of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre and Turning Point Drug and Alcohol Centre: Eastern Health on behalf of the Department of Health). Key recommendations included:

  • Increasing the capacity of the Victorian ORT system by funding additional Addiction Medicine Specialists and providing increased ORT training and support for community GPs and pharmacists;
  • Introducing initiatives to increase regional and rural access to ORT prescribing and dispensing services;
  • Addressing ORT affordability for economically vulnerable Victorians;
  • Increasing service linkages with providers of complementary treatment services; &
  • Improving systems for assessing and monitoring client safety.

Ms Ribton-Turner said:

These are vital reforms to increase the positive impact that ORT can have within Victorian communities. Whilst revolutionary when introduced 20 years ago, the limitations of the current system have been evident for some time. It is essential that we move quickly to improve the capacity for the Victorian alcohol and other drugs treatment system to provide easy access to co-ordinated and effective treatment options.

It’s important to remember is that although ORT, on its own, does not provide a ‘cure’ for opioid dependence, it is a powerful enabler of recovery. It provides an essential support to those community members who are undertaking a very difficult process, but there also needs to be a more systematic response for those individuals wishing to stop their ORT. For those who have made and sustained changes to their lives (often after many years of treatment), ceasing ORT can be a significant milestone in their recovery. However, inconsistencies in the Victorian service system result in some community members being denied access to particular treatment programs because of their choice to use ORT.

Currently, some services exclude people on pharmacotherapy or stipulated low doses that were not considered therapeutic. In some instances, this means that some community members have to go interstate to get the support they need. If we are promoting ORT as a treatment of choice for opioid dependence, there should be a full range of supports available to people when they make the important decision to stop. This is a vital stage in people’s treatment. Mismanagement of the process has the potential to undo years of work by individuals and alcohol and other drugs (AOD) treatment services.

Ms Ribton-Turner concluded:

The Baillieu government is to be commended for increasing the budget for ORT in Victoria. It is hoped that AOD treatment providers and service users are consulted about how the additional funding can be most effectively spent. If we can get this right, it will make a significant contribution to reducing the individual, familial and community harms associated with opioid dependencies.


For further information or comment please contact Acting Chief Executive Officer Donna Ribton-Turner on 9384 8830

Background about Moreland Hall: UnitingCare Moreland Hall is an Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) treatment and education agency of the Uniting Church in Australia. Moreland Hall has been operating since 1970 and provides a range of treatment and education services to clients in the North West Metropolitan region of Melbourne. These include counselling and support in the community and at Port Phillip prison, adult and youth home-based and residential withdrawal, education and training, drug diversion programs, supported accommodation and youth and family service.