An increase in the number of doctors trained to prescribe alternative drugs for heroin addicts has not translated into an increase in doctors doing so in the field, health professionals say.
In Melbourne’s inner-north, there are 167 GPs approved to prescribe opiate-based heroin replacement drugs as of June this year, with 78 in Yarra, 50 in Melbourne and 13 in Moreland, according to the Victorian Department of Health’s latest statistics.
But Matthew Frei, Turning Point Drug and Alcohol Centre clinical director, said the figures did not reflect the number of GPs who actually treated heroin addicts in Melbourne.
Dr Frei believed there was fewer than 20 GPs actively prescribing alternatives to heroin across Melbourne, Moonee Valley, Yarra and Moreland, a claim backed by Carlton GP Monica Cooper.
“There are not 70 doctors in Yarra that take on addicts,” Dr Cooper said.
“Most doctors don’t want to deal with heroin addicts because they are difficult patients. They are often abusive, aggressive and that is why [doctors] don’t want to have them in the surgery.”
Dr Frei said more resources were needed to aid in the treatment of drug dependency.
“We need more GPs, there’s no question of that,” he said. “We’ve got a shortage and that’s a big problem. We could very quickly get in a very difficult situation if we were unlucky and had a number of doctors leave the sector precipitously.”
He said while heroin use has stayed relatively steady over the past decade, prescription drug abuse, which is also treated with pharmacotherapy, is a growing problem in the community.
A report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare titled National Opioid Pharmacotherapy Statistics 2013 found there were 14,095 people receiving treatment for opioid dependence in Victoria on a snapshot day in June 2013.
Of that number more than 7000 were being treated for heroin addiction and 1570 were being treated for prescription opioid abuse.
According to the report, there were 821 medical professionals registered in Victoria to prescribe methadone or buprenorphine in 2013 out of 2025 nationwide.
Royal Australian College of General Practice Victorian drug and alcohol committee chair Dr Paul Grinzi, said more GPs are needed in the field.
“One of the problems we’ve got in Victoria is that there are a small number of prescribers that have an enormous amount of patients on their books. The idea is to have a lot more prescribers seeing less patients,” he said.
“Since 2012 we’ve had a significant amount, almost 100 extra prescribers trained up in Victoria,” he said.
This article first appeared on ‘The Age’ on 22 June 2014.