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Tasmanian drug monitoring system prepares for nationwide roll-out

by David Shi •
Free resource

Sales of prescription medication will soon be electronically monitored nationally, with the Federal Government announcing the roll-out of a new $5 million real time drug monitoring system aimed at curbing prescription drug abuse.

The project will build upon an existing drug monitoring program which has been operational in Tasmania for over a year to date. A new $550,000 licensing agreement will be signed between the Federal Government and the Tasmanian Department of Health and Human Services, paving the way for the expansion of the scheme onto a national level.

“We are proud that our response to this challenge has been recognised as one that will benefit the entire nation,” said the Michelle O’Byrne, the Tasmanian Health Minister, in a media release

The Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA) has advised that the remaining funding will go towards systems integration services associated till the roll-out.

“The remaining $4.45 million will be used to undertake necessary software modifications and enhancements to meet all of the requirements of this initiative, and to provide a nationally-consistent solution from July 2012,” said a spokesperson.

DoHA has also confirmed that the cost of the licensing agreement will be funded through the Fifth Community Pharmacy Agreement (Fifth Agreement), and not from the PCEHR budget.

The Fifth Agreement is a $15.4 billion arrangement between the Australian Government and the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, to provide ongoing patient medication management services for community pharmacies across Australia.

The new Electronic Recording and Reporting of Controlled Drugs (ERRCD) system will enable doctors, pharmacists and health authorities to access real time information from a centralised database of prescription drug purchases across all pharmacies nationwide.

“Following calls from coroners, law enforcers and consumer groups for greater control over distribution of the drugs, the Gillard Government is pleased to be making this electronic system available,” said the Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek.

Previously, prescription medication purchases were only reported on a monthly basis, with several states continuing to use paper-based records. The new national system will enable pharmacists and other health professionals to instantly access patient details past purchases of prescription medication.

“If a pharmacist determines it is not clinically appropriate to dispense a medicine to a patient, it is their duty of care to restrict access to that patient,” continued the Health Minister.

The ERRCD system will also be mandatory for all outlets to use, as opposed to the opt-in regime that will be used for the PCEHR system.

The announcement of the national system comes just days after Victorian Coroner John Olle called for the establishment of a real time drug monitoring system, following death of a 24 year old man triggered by an overdose of prescription drugs in October 2009. The Coroner revealed that the man visited 19 doctors and 32 pharmacies over a three year period.

Whilst the Victorian Coroner’s recommendations only goes as far as to suggest the creation of a State-based prescription drug monitoring system, the new system will provide integrated access for all Australian states and territories upon completion.

“If information is restricted to only the state or territory where the medical practitioner is located, the current limitations of the paper based system will persist,” said Associate Professor John Gullotta, the then Chair of the Australian Medical Association’s Therapeutics Committee, in a statement submitted to the Department of Health and Aging (DOHA) as part of the consultation and development phase of the project. 

“The AMA supports the development of an electronic record of controlled drugs that can be used to help address abuse and misuse of schedule 8 drugs,” continued Gullotta.

Codeine, methyl amphetamines, morphine and Ritalin are all examples of schedule 8 drugs.

In May 2011, DOHA released Expression of Interest tender documents calling for the ‘Development and Hosting Arrangements of a National System for the Electronic Recording and Reporting of Controlled Drugs.’

Tender respondents were advised that the project must be ready for delivery by 1 July 2012, coinciding with the scheduled completion and release date for the $466.7 million Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (PCEHR) system.

The ERRCD system will be available nationally from July 2012.


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  • Federal
  • TAS
  • IT Services
  • Health
  • Associate Professor John Gullotta
  • Department of Health and Ageing
  • Department of Health and Human Services
  • doha
  • Electronic Recording and Reporting of Controlled Drugs
  • John Olle
  • Michelle O’Byrne
  • Tanya Plibersek
  • tasmania
  • Victorian Coroner