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Speech: Controlled Substances (Confidentiality and Other Matters) Amendment Bill 2020

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:16): I rise on behalf of the Greens to welcome this legislation and the fulfillment of this government's election commitment, on top of a national commitment that will allow real-time monitoring of the prescription or supply of drugs of dependence. The key focus of this legislation is harm prevention and that is a welcome one indeed.

The Controlled Substances (Confidentiality and Other Matters) Amendment Bill 2020 is a recognition that prescription drug abuse is a rising problem in our nation and pharmaceutical drugs have been significant contributors to overdose deaths. Prescription drug abuse is a worldwide problem of increasing concern to governments and the United Nations. Research data indicates that prescription drug abuse is increasing in Australia.

The 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey found that 4.8 per cent of Australian adults used pharmaceuticals for non-medical purposes in the past year. That is an increase from 3.8 per cent in 2004. The number of people in needle and syringe programs who reported that the drug they last injected was a prescription opioid increased from 7 per cent in 2000 to 23 per cent in 2015.

The importance of a real-time prescription monitoring system is highlighted and indeed echoed in an article published in the Australian Family Physician, a magazine of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. In an article titled 'Prescription drug abuse-A timely update' the authors noted that:

Regulatory changes in pharmaceutical medications can have an impact on patterns of drug prescribing and subsequent misuse. Implementation of real-time monitoring programs may assist doctors in making more appropriate prescribing decisions.

This is the very same article that highlights the statistics that I have just quoted. I am pleased to see that South Australia, along with the rest of the country, is moving to address this issue.

I believe the passage of this bill would make us the third jurisdiction in the country to have a system that is compatible with the national database. Victoria's system is almost implemented and Queensland is a month or so ahead of us. Currently, the ACT has a limited version of such a system in place and Tasmania has a system that allows for almost real-time monitoring but is not yet linked to the national database. This bill is largely administrative, with enabling amendments that will see us implement ScriptCheck in South Australia as well as allowing the system to connect to the national database and collect information in real time.

In an overdue leap into the 21st century, this bill also allows for doctors to make applications for authority to prescribe drugs of dependence via the ScriptCheck system, rather than having to mail in a physical form request, as is the current practice. This will allow for better information being available around what drugs are being prescribed by whom, for whom and at what frequency, and it also allows doctors and patients more timely access to those prescribed drugs.

The changes to penalties under the act are appreciated, as the amendments ensure they are more proportional. This bill allows for expiations on larger offences to support the system that will be in place. This is quite useful as, for example, the only way currently to address someone not submitting their data is to take them to court.

This bill will enable warnings and the possibility of a fine without the offence being recorded, as opposed to taking an individual to court in what should be more an administrative approach. I particularly appreciated the added clarity that doctors and pharmacists can only access information in the database for the purposes of treating a patient and that health practitioners can only share information with others providing treatment and SA Health as the government regulator.

It was deeply concerning to learn in our briefing about some of the behaviour of SAPOL officers who have engaged in demanding information from health practitioners under certain pretences and then have gone after the individuals to whom the information related for something entirely other than their health needs. So it is very welcome to see an assurance for health practitioners that they will not be required to share information relating to the prescription of drugs of dependence with SAPOL.

I have a question for the minister, and I would like it to perhaps be taken on notice because I did not give prior notice of this question. In the past five years—or three years, depending on what is the easiest data to collate—how many times has SAPOL attempted to put pressure on our health professionals with regard to information about the prescription of drugs of dependence?

This bill is timely and we look forward to its swift passage and implementation. It is indeed good to see our systems being brought into the 21st century, albeit 20 years into the 21st century, and also good to see the harm minimisation approach to tackle the very serious issues of dependency on prescription pharmaceuticals.

As a subscriber to the SANDAS (SA Network of Drug and Alcohol Services) email list—which I have been for well over a decade, well before I was a member of this place, in my previous roles, particularly as policy officer for the Mental Health Coalition—I must note that this bill has been well consulted and that currently there is an email out that is specifically consulting those practitioners who are directly affected with regard to the regulations.

I find it extraordinary that the Labor opposition would come in here as if we normally look at the regulations that are associated with an act before we pass a bill to create that act. It is extraordinary to gild the lily a little there as if somehow that is common practice. I note that, if the opposition were so minded, there is a whole website devoted to information on this process.

Indeed, the website is very cognisant that some of our health practitioners have had a little thing called COVID-19 to deal with just lately and have had a lot else on their plate but are currently being asked for their specific input on how they will be affected and whether or not they need exemptions from the operation of this act. With those few words, I commend the bill to the council.

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