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Opioid supply cut hurts those most in need

Chronic pain patients have been hit hard by manufacturers discontinuing production of drugs.

  • Health
  • Read Time: 4 mins

Doctors say looming shortage of opioid pain medicines poses risks to their vulnerable patients, including older Australians.

Health organisations are struggling to understand why certain opioids, useful in treating palliative care patients, are being discontinued by global drug manufacturers.

They have called on the Federal Government to force pharmaceutical companies to extend notice of discontinuations from six to 12 months, proactively search for alternative medicines, and review processes so alternatives can be quickly listed under the Pharmeceutical Benefits Scheme.

They also want the government to consider ways to manufacture the medicines locally, given Australia is one of the world’s largest producers of pharmaceutical opioid poppies.

Palliative Care Australia chief executive, Camilla Rowland, told the ABC there was now “… a serious risk for all Australians requiring management of serious pain”.

Products that have been discontinued include four strengths of MS Mono capsules, MS Contin sachets, Jurnista tablets, and Dilaudid oral liquid.

Australia and New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine president, Michelle Gold, suggested the withdrawal of the opioids were a result of certain of the medications not coming off patent “or not making sufficient income for the company”.

Some alternatives have now been approved for use, but doctors say they are only a stopgap. One Swiss brand is not even labelled in English.

Dr Gold said she was concerned by the lack of social responsibility from companies that received millions in taxpayer funds.

Global pharmaceutical company MundiPharma, which supplies the medicines to Australia, said in a statement that the products were withdrawn “after careful consideration” and most had alternatives.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) said the issue was a “high priority” and noted that it has approved a temporary supply of overseas equivalents for Ordine, Jurnista, and Dilaudid.

In a statement on its website, the TGA said it is “working hard to ensure substitute overseas-registered products or other options are available.  

“As oral opioid medicines are used to manage severe pain and difficult or laboured breathing in many care settings, including cancer treatment and end-of-life care, we understand their importance to the patients who rely on them.

“We also appreciate that the health professionals who prescribe these medicines for patients with pain and breathing issues are concerned about the availability of suitable alternatives.”

The TGA noted there was a $15 million National Reconstruction Fund that could be used to enable some medicines to be made locally.

Related reading: ABC, TGA


John Austin

John Austin

Policy and Communications Officer

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