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Pharmacist of the year calls for subsidised opioid treatment

Opioid Maintenance Therapy (OMT), more commonly known as pharmacotherapy, will help more than 48,000 Australians manage their drug addiction this year. Yet for many others, help will remain out of reach due to the high cost of accessing the treatment, which must be taken daily to be effective in suppressing debilitating withdrawal symptoms.

2016 Pharmacist of the Year, Noel Fosbery, believes opioid maintenance therapy should be fully subsidised.
2016 Pharmacist of the Year, Noel Fosbery, believes Opioid Maintenance Therapy should be fully subsidised.

WAIT alumnus and 2016 Pharmacist of the Year, Noel Fosbery, delivers OMT through both his pharmacies and services around 50 clients, most of whom are recovering heroin addicts. He says it’s long overdue for the program to be fully subsidised by the federal government.

“At the moment, clients pay pharmacists between $5 to $7 a day to obtain their daily dose,” says Fosbery. “This amounts to almost $2,000 per year and I believe this is an unfair impost on the budgets of these people who are commonly on very low incomes.”

Though the drugs used for OMT – methadone and buprenorphine – are funded under Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), the cost of dispensing them is not. To cover the administration and recording costs associated with delivering the treatment, pharmacists must charge a dispensing fee, otherwise known as a copayment fee. New technologies can help to reduce the time associated with dispensing OMT, reducing the risk of pharmacists needing to increase the dispensing fee in the future.

“I’m a strong advocate for technology assisting the efficiency and accuracy of the dispensing and customer relationship process,” Fosbery says, who has dispensing robots in both of his pharmacies. “The robots are an amazing piece of technology which even the most technophobic of my employees are comfortable using.”

Fosbery also developed his own software, Easydose, to assist with OMT dispensing.

“There are two main excuses given by pharmacists for not taking on the OMT services. These are the potential for anti-social behaviour in store and the onerous amount of paperwork involved,” he explains. “Easydose was born out of the second issue, and takes care of the recording and reporting side of things beautifully. It is now registered in every state of Australia, a feat which has taken over two years as each state has its own rules and regulations.”

And as for the first issue?

“The anti-social aspect is usually controlled by laying clear behavioural expectations when a client joins us and then being respectful, open and firm but fair. Sometimes this means we must ask some to leave, but mostly we actually develop a really good relationship with them. After all, we see them almost every day,” says Fosbery.

“When all is said and done” he adds, “I’m a big advocate of the OMT scheme. We have to face the reality that drug addiction is a big problem in Australia. And as a pharmacist, I believe it is our role to deliver the best possible health outcomes for our community.”

An extended version of this story can be read in Alumni News.