Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment (Real-time Prescription Monitoring) Bill 2017

Mr  J. BULL (Sunbury) — I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment (Real-time Prescription Monitoring) Bill 2017. This is a bill that will save lives, and what could be more important than that?

Late last year I had the opportunity to meet a very special couple. Unfortunately this meeting took place at the funeral of my wife’s grandfather, Bill Stanhope. Bill was a very special man. He was a man with a huge heart, great intellect and a fantastic outlook on life. He was a Labor man, and he cared more for others than for himself. Bill was a poultry farmer. He dedicated his life to the poultry industry, spent years working in the department of agriculture and crossbred chickens in the hope of creating a chicken that ate less but still produced the same amount of eggs. Bill was admired by many, those he worked with and those who sought advice from him, but above all he was admired by his family.

Bill knew this very special couple from the poultry industry, and after reflections about their time with Bill they asked about my work as a local MP and member of the Andrews Labor government. We then got to speaking about their story. They told me they had met with the current Minister for Health, and in their words were ‘incredibly happy to see her passion, dedication and understanding of the need to see real-time prescription monitoring implemented in Victoria’. They asked that I follow this up and do my research, and I promised to do exactly that.

What I did not know at that time was that I had met John and Margaret Millington, who are in the gallery today. John and Marg have been tireless advocates for real-time prescription monitoring ever since the death of their son, Simon. Can I express this afternoon my deepest condolences to both of them on the loss of Simon. I cannot imagine how tough that must be and how tough it must be for them to be here today.

In 1994 Simon was an 18-year-old auto-electrician when he crashed his car on a country road and suffered a devastating injury. After weeks in hospital and numerous operations he became addicted to his pain medication and other drugs. Marg has described the next 16 years of Simon’s life as a roller-coaster, involving numerous attempts at drug rehabilitation and chaos for the family as they tried to rescue him.

But the family was determined to save him. Simon became a father and desperately wanted to stay well for his daughter, Maddie. But sadly addiction crept back into their lives and he started prescription shopping again. The family lost their battle to save Simon in 2010: he died of an accidental overdose.

What was clear to me in our conversation was the strength, the resolve and the determination of both John and Margaret, not just for their son but for all of the people that are affected by these tragedies. Marg said, ‘His life mattered, and that is why I do what I do for others in similar circumstances’. I think earlier today John mentioned that he had been pushing for this since 2007.

This bill will save lives. Sadly it cannot bring Simon back, and it cannot bring back the hundreds of Victorians we lose each year. In 2016 prescription medicine overdoses resulted in the loss of 372 Victorian lives. That is more lives than those lost through illicit drugs, at 257, and even higher than the road toll, at 291 — all deaths of course being devastating. Prescription drugs are issued by medical professionals to save lives, not take them. Prescription drugs, however, can be powerful and all too often we see people doing it tough and those who fall into addiction.

This bill will do a number of things. It will enable the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to establish a database that contains records of the supply of certain high-risk medicines; require records to be provided for use within the database; enable prescribers and pharmacists to access the records for a patient in their medical care; require prescribers and pharmacists to review a patient’s dispensing history before writing or dispensing a prescription; and reduce the regulatory burden on prescribers by removing some of the regulatory requirements.

Having access to a real-time database, having that information at hand right across the state, will enable our healthcare and medical professionals to ascertain and assess those who are prescription shopping in, of course, the hope of preventing it. By implementing real-time prescription monitoring, this bill will enable prescribers and pharmacists to review dispensing records for high-risk medicines and help them make better informed, safer clinical decisions at critical moments. On more than 30 occasions, Victorian coroners have also recommended real-time prescription monitoring to prevent the unintentional prescription drug overdose deaths of people whose drug use was uncoordinated or who were obtaining dangerous prescription drugs from unwitting multiple prescribers and pharmacies.

When we consulted with the peak bodies there was incredibly strong support from bodies including the Australian Medical Association, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia — all are incredibly supportive and very much welcome the implementation of this system. The bill will see the system made available to over 1900 medical clinics, 1300 pharmacies and 200 hospitals right across the state. The legislation will be proclaimed in line with the introduction of real-time prescription monitoring in mid to late 2018. If not proclaimed earlier, the act will come into effect on 1 August 2018.

In assessing where we are in this state, it is important to reflect on where other jurisdictions across the nation are. I see that Tasmania is currently the only jurisdiction in Australia to have implemented real-time prescription monitoring and has provided access to the system for clinicians incrementally since 2011. In Western Australia we see that the Western Australian government has announced $1 million in funding to implement real-time prescription monitoring in 2018 based on the commonwealth software. New South Wales has adopted a version of the commonwealth software to replace its internal database for issuing licences and permits for the use of scheduled medicines and poisons. The Australian Capital Territory has adopted the Tasmanian system for its internal database and is now considering providing clinicians access to that system.

If you were to take the stories that I have reflected on in my contribution, it can be seen that it is fundamentally important that a national approach is implemented. I will certainly support any such moves to do so. This is a bill, as I said at the opening of my contribution, that we know will save lives. I think in this chamber and in the other place there is nothing more important than for members of Parliament and governments as such to be able to bring in bills that we know protect those doing it tough, those who are the most vulnerable, those who need support. That is what good governments do.

I would like to take this opportunity to commend the Minister for Health and the Minister for Mental Health, their staff, their departments and the tireless work that is being done in bringing this bill to the house. In doing so I think of Simon Millington, I think of his lovely parents, Marg and John, and I think of Maddie. I think of the hundreds of lives that are lost each year and the thousands more that are touched by the loss of those lives. I have a very strong feeling that this legislation will save hundreds of lives, but if it saves just one life, that is something that we should all be incredibly proud of.

I look forward to seeing this legislation implemented in Victoria, and I very strongly support the work that has been done by the department, by the Minister for Health and by the Minister for Mental Health in never stopping their efforts to find systems that support communities and support those that are most in need of that support. As I said, I think this legislation will make a significant difference, and that is what being in this job is all about.