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Track scripts to prevent drug deaths: AMA

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The AMA has called for nationwide opioid prescription tracking system amid reports of a spate of deaths involving the painkiller Fentanyl.

AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton said a Tasmanian system that tracks patients who see multiple doctors to obtain prescriptions for opioid medication should be adopted nationally to prevent drug abuse and save lives.

Dr Hambleton made his call in a report by ABC’s Lateline program detailing a string of deaths in western New South Wales attributed to abuse of the prescription painkiller Fentanyl.

According to the report, at least three people have died in the past three months after overdosing on the drug, which is a powerful synthetic opioid – usually prescribed as a patch – used to treat chronic pain.

Fentanyl is much stronger than morphine and oxycontin, and Lateline said those using it to obtain a high were boiling the patches and using household chemicals to extract opiates in a concentrated form that was then injected into a vein for an intense hit.

A former user interviewed by the ABC said addicts and their accomplices would visit multiple doctors, claiming back pain or other chronic pain ailments in order to obtain Fentanyl prescriptions.

Dr Hambleton said a nationwide prescription tracking system like Tasmania’s would make it much easier for doctors and pharmacists to identify people who were doctor shopping.

“This is the system we have been asking for, for some time, because we do need to help make our prescribers make the right decision,” he told Lateline.

“If someone before them that they don’t know is asking for this product, then we are suspicious that this is not legitimate.

“If we had a system where we could check that, it would make it a lot easier for the doctors and the pharmacists.

“Tasmania does have it. We need to see that rolled out right across the country.”

Australia has adopted a system under which those who buy products containing pseudoephedrine-based substances from a pharmacy are supposed to provide identification, which is ten entered into a national database, but this has not yet been extended to other medications.

And the widely disliked authority prescription system is not seen as an effective tool to prevent doctor shopping.

Adrian Rollins