A real-time prescription monitoring system is set to begin operating in the ACT in March next year, after the Legislative Assembly passed the bills to create the scheme.
The system will allow both doctors and pharmacists in Canberra to check in real time what prescriptions for Schedule 8 controlled medicines a person has been prescribed, in an effort to limit potential misuse and doctor-shopping practices.
It follows recommendations from Coroner Margaret Hunter to set up the scheme 2017, after an inquest into the death of Canberra man Paul Fennessy, who died of a prescription drug overdose in the capital in 2010.
While the monitoring system will record prescriptions provided for Schedule 8 drugs, largely opioids and alprazolam, it will not initially include most benzodiazepines, which are commonly found alongside opioids in the coronial data.
Mr Fennessy's mother, Ann Finlay, has called for the system to be extended to such pharmaceutical drugs that are linked to multi-drug toxicity, and to ensure the system is mandatory for all doctors and chemists in the ACT.
Ms Finlay remained concerned that the significant amount of evidence pointing to multi-drug toxicity as a key cause of prescription drug deaths was not being taken on board, and she has urged the government make sure the ACT had the best system from the start.
"Doctors are highly skilled professionals, but the statistics are telling us they get it wrong, given the
rate of accidental drug-related deaths that now exceeds [motor vehicle accident] related fatalities across Australia," she wrote to Ms Fitzharris earlier this week.
"Surely doctors would welcome a system that provides them with real time medication information
to decrease the risk of prescription shopping and harm to their patients?"
But ACT Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris, in passing the bill on Thursday, said it would only be voluntary, though the government was planning an "extensive" education campaign to encourage general practitioners and pharmacists to join the system.
It is understood that while the system will not initially include other potentially addictive drugs, such as benzodiazepines, such substances would likely be added to the list later, subject to ministerial approval.
Ms Fitzharris also said the government had included offence measures in the bill to help protect the privacy of health records anybody being prescribed such medicines health records recorded in the system, including off
ACT Health currently run a system which centres on pharmacists providing weekly reports to the directorate on prescriptions filled, but it does not extend that information automatically, in real-time, to doctors, as the proposed system would.
Ms Fitzharris also thanked the Coronial Reform Group, of which Ms Finlay is a part, and Greens MLA Caroline Le Couteur thanked Ms Finlay for her tireless efforts in campaigning for changes in the health system.
The bill passed with all ACT parties voting in support.
Listen to The Canberra Times' podcast Losing Paul for more on Paul's story.