20 February 2024

Two GPs with extensive experience in providing opioid dependence treatment (ODT) have encouraged their colleagues across South Western Sydney to take up financial incentives which aim to better equip primary care providers to support patients to overcome addiction.

SWSPHN is offering remuneration of up to $20,000 to eligible practices for training of two or more GPs or nurse practitioners, practice nurses and frontline staff per practice ($6,000), and the development of referral pathways with SWSLHD Drug Health Services and evidence the training has been put into practise ($14,000).

An Expression of Interest for participation in the Whole of Practice Capacity Building Initiative for Opioid Dependence Treatment opens today (21 February) and closes on 15 March.

Dr Tuan Bui (pictured) from Moorebank Family Medical Practice said he’d been prescribing opioid replacement medicines for several years because he wanted to make it as easy as possible for his patients to access the care they needed.

“I feel if I didn’t prescribe, I wouldn’t be providing a holistic service,” he said. “I have a good relationship and rapport with my patients, and I already look after their physical health, social and mental wellbeing. This is just one aspect of the healthcare that we provide.”

Dr Bui said he was lucky to have the support of a good team at his practice.

He said prescribers could also expect comprehensive, A to Z support from SWSLHD Drug Health Services, including access to Clinical Nurse Consultants and telephone support from the GP Drug and Alcohol Advice and Support Service.

“There are also courses I would recommend, such as the Opioid Treatment Accreditation Course.”

Dr Vince Roche from Southern Medical Centre at Moss Vale said he began prescribing opioid replacement medicines when one of his patients asked if he could prescribe methadone for his heroin addiction – that was 36 years ago.

“He is still my patient … and still on methadone,” he said.

“GP prescribing of ODT is much more convenient and civilised for patients and much cheaper for the healthcare system. It is part of the comprehensive care that GPs can give (eg mental health, chronic and complex care, paediatric care, geriatric care etc).

“Why would we isolate alcohol and other drugs (AOD) from all the comprehensive womb-to-tomb care we give to our patients?”

SWSPHN’s financial incentives initiative comes in response to the Federal Government’s changes to ODT which have made opioid replacement medicines available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule. It is anticipated that as private dispensing clinics close due to the changes, GPs will play a greater role in prescribing ODT medications.

Further information about the initiative is available on our website, including details about training for GPs, practices nurses and frontline staff, and how general practices will work with, and be supported by Drug Health Services.

When asked what he’d say to general practices hesitant to become opioid replacement medicine prescribers due to concerns about stigma or the behaviour of patients, Dr Bui said:

“It doesn’t matter what the patient is like – as long as they’re not difficult or experiencing crisis – you are helping your patient to overcome a problem which is quite difficult to do and has a very wide impact on all aspects of their lives and their family,” he said.

“Once you put your patient on the treatment, you can see a very rapid change to their life. They stop the drug-seeking behaviour, they stop searching for money and they are able to look after themselves.

“In a way it’s like seeing a surgeon for a cataract operation and in the next day or so the patient can see.”

Dr Roche encouraged general practices to try prescribing to one or two patients at first.

“Most of my ODT patients are like all other patients in my practice, courteous, polite and grateful,” he said.

Dr Roche said he “absolutely” encouraged other practices – small, medium and large group practices – to take up the incentives: “Upskill and gain resources!”, while Dr Bui agreed, emphasising the importance of communicating with your team.

“My team is extremely supportive and very professional,” he said.

“You will be able to provide a service to help your patient turn their life around.”

Express your interest