31 August 2023, 17:27
Legislative Council of Victoria, Melbourne

David ETTERSHANK (Western Metropolitan):

My adjournment matter is for the Minister for Mental Health. Today is International Overdose Awareness Day, an annual global event aimed at raising awareness of overdoses, remembering those who have died and acknowledging the grief experienced by their loved ones. Overdose deaths in Australia have long exceeded the road toll. In 2022 over 500 Victorians died from overdose, more than double the number of people who died on our roads – both tragic.

The Penington Institute has released an excellent new report on access to opioid pharmacotherapy treatment in Australia. It considers system-wide issues across Australia and offers recommendations to improve access to this life-saving treatment. A key recommendation calls on government and stakeholders to:

… work together to rapidly accelerate and expand trials of alternative opioid pharmacotherapy medications, including short-acting injectable opioids …

such as hydromorphone.

In March the Ryan review of the medically supervised safe injecting room also recommended the Victorian government expand access to opioid pharmacotherapy, including hydromorphone, particularly for people whose previous treatment had not been successful. Indeed at the time the Premier expressed enthusiasm for the idea. He noted, and I am paraphrasing slightly here, that:

Hydromorphone is one area –

where the Ryan review –

… wants to see an expansion … there’s very clear evidence that that works, it saves and changes lives itself, not just in North Richmond but across the board.

More recently, during deliberations for the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment (Medically Supervised Injecting Centre) Bill 2023 we were assured that the government would be considering innovative therapies, including hydromorphone, in the recommissioning of the North Richmond safe injecting facility. So the action that I seek is that the minister update the house on the government’s progress in relation to hydromorphone and expanded pharmacotherapy more generally, including in the recommissioning of the North Richmond safe injecting facility.

Written Answer
Received: 29 November 2023
Hon. Ingrid Stitt MP
(Minister for Mental Health, Minister for Ageing, Minister for Multicultural Affairs)

I thank the Member for the Western Metropolitan Region for raising this important matter and can I thank you for your continued advocacy in this important area.

Every single life lost to drugs is a tragedy, for the families and friends affected, and for the wider community. The Government remains committed to reducing drug harms in Victoria.

The Review of the Medically Supervised Injecting Room 2023, known as the Ryan review, recommended expanding access to opioid pharmacotherapy treatment in Victoria, including novel treatment options such as hydromorphone for people with severe opioid dependence.

In 2023-24, the Victorian Government is investing $372.4 million in alcohol and other drug services to support Victorians to access harm reduction services and treatment, including pharmacotherapy. Victorians who use opioids have access to a range of treatment, care and support services, including opioid pharmacotherapy. Opioid pharmacotherapy is currently accessed by approximately 14,000 people in Victoria, largely via general practitioners, nurse practitioners and pharmacists.

To address the structural issues impacting access to opioid pharmacotherapy treatment, including those identified by the Ryan review, the Government is considering opportunities to address opioid dependency treatment reforms. This work will require collaborative effort, and embedded expertise, knowledge, and experience of experts across the sector, as well as the voices of people with lived and living experiences of opioid use and treatment.

The North Richmond Medically Supervised Injecting Room (MSIR) facilitates access to alcohol and other drug treatment, including pharmacotherapy. Between September 2019 and December 2022, more than 500 clients have commenced long-acting injectable buprenorphine treatment through the MSIR’s pharmacotherapy clinic. This is a once-a-week or once-a-month injection that allows people to stop using heroin without withdrawal symptoms. Since the service commenced in 2018, the pharmacotherapy clinic, which operates 35 hours a week, has had more than twice as many appointments as any other service offered in the consulting area of the MSIR.

The commissioning process of identifying a service provider to deliver an enhanced model of care at the MSIR commenced in August 2023. A provider is anticipated to be identified by the end of 2023.

The Government remains committed to exploring emerging evidence regarding effective treatments and supports to reduce drug harms in Victoria.


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