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Opioid Pharmacotherapy at the Crossroads: Penington Institute’s New Report Sheds Light on Fragile System

Penington Institute today releases its report on Australia’s opioid pharmacotherapy system, Opioid pharmacotherapy at the crossroads: Enduring barriers and new opportunities. The report offers a comprehensive analysis of the challenges and opportunities of the current landscape, including recommendations to stabilise the fragile system and make it more accessible and effective. 

Request a copy of the report here.

Penington Institute CEO John Ryan said the report is the result of more than a year of extensive collaboration with experts from across the country, including peer-based drug user groups, researchers, healthcare professionals, and policy experts.  

“This report offers a uniquely thorough picture of an essential harm reduction and drug treatment tool. We’ve partnered with experts to provide a view that captures numerous angles of the complex, neglected opioid pharmacotherapy system.”  

The report highlights that although there is a significant evidence base behind opioid pharmacotherapy treatment to support people and communities, the system is neglected, precarious, and poorly designed to serve patient needs.  

“We urge governments to adopt these vital changes to the pharmacotherapy system to avoid a downward spiral that places people’s lives at risk. 

“We know that opioid pharmacotherapy is a life-saving and transformative intervention for individuals experiencing opioid dependence.”  

“The report underscores the effectiveness of this treatment in reducing opioid-related health harms and improving personal and community well-being in Australia and globally.” 

Fixing the pharmacotherapy system requires more prescribers to offer this life-changing treatment, enhanced provider networks to provide better care, and more outreach to ensure all people who seek treatment can get it. 

While over 55,000 Australians accessed prescribed pharmacotherapy drugs in 2022, the report highlights the significant challenges facing the existing system.  

“We are particularly concerned about inadequate incentives for GP prescribers, coupled with underfunding of healthcare and social support services, that have contributed to a fragile environment that hampers both patients and healthcare professionals.” 

“In the context of increasing risks of contamination of the Australian drug supply with powerful synthetic opioids, the time to help people manage opioid dependence is now.” 

Despite these challenges, the report emphasises several recent developments that provide hope for a more patient-centred approach.  

New drug formulations are increasing flexibility for patients, new care models are emerging, and, in May 2023, the Commonwealth Government committed to removing private dispensing fees, a major barrier to treatment access.  

However, persistent funding and workforce deficits, along with limited political will, continue to impede the changes necessary to build a sustainable treatment regime.   

The report’s recommendations are designed to address pressing issues and lay the groundwork for a system that offers greater capacity and more effective care. Key recommendations include: 

  • Tackling the opioid pharmacotherapy prescriber deficit  
  • Developing cooperative relationships between governments and across jurisdictions to improve efficiency and care quality in the opioid pharmacotherapy system 
  • Diversifying entry points into the pharmacotherapy system and prioritise inclusion of socially and geographically disadvantaged groups  
  • Planning and implementing a sustainable pharmacotherapy system that is capable of responding to diverse patient needs  
  • Ensuring that all people experiencing opioid dependence have equitable and continuous access to the medications best suited to their individual needs. 

Mr Ryan urged policymakers, healthcare professionals, and stakeholders at all levels to consider and implement these recommendations to improve the pharmacotherapy system and effectively address the challenges faced by individuals with opioid dependence. 

We extend our gratitude to contributors to the report, especially those with lived experience, whose invaluable insights have shaped the findings and recommendations within the report. 

This report will be released in time for International Overdose Awareness Day on 31st August which is convened by Penington Institute and is the largest global campaign to end overdose. 

Request a copy of the report here.


Note to Editors: The full report, Opioid pharmacotherapy at the crossroads: Enduring barriers and new opportunities, by Penington Institute is available to download here: www.penington.org.au/overdose 

For all media enquiries, contact Sofia Dedes on 0400 512 618 or Anna Northey on 0400 640 622.  

Penington Institute connects lived experience with research to support cost-effective approaches that maximise community health and safety in relation to drugs, including pharmaceuticals and alcohol. For more information go to www.penington.org.au 

For more about International Overdose Awareness Day, go to overdoseday.com 


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