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Prescribing drugs of dependence

When is an authority required?

It is an offence to prescribe or supply (including administering from the prescribers’ own supply), drugs of dependence for a patient’s  regular use during a period exceeding two months without an authority from the Minister.

Treatment provided by other prescribers must be considered when calculating the two-month period.

Treating drug dependence, be it illicit, licit or iatrogenic dependence, requires an authority from the Minister in the first instance; it is an offence to prescribe for this purpose without an authority for any period.

How do you apply for an authority?

Applications must be made to the Minister via the Drugs of Dependence Unit.  Applications are to be made in writing only and signed by the applying prescriber.

Applications generally take 14 days to process (unless issued to treat drug dependence).

More information, including the forms are all available on the Legal requirements for the prescription and supply of drugs of dependence page

When is an authority not required?

An authority is not required when prescribing or supplying a drug of dependence in the following circumstances:

  • A patient aged 70 years or more and the drug involved is not pethidine
  • A patient whose life expectancy is less than 12 months if the drug is not pethidine and the prescriber has informed the Minister of the patient’s name, address, date of birth and the nature of the condition for which the drug is prescribed.  In these cases, the prescriber must endorse the prescription either “Notified Palliative Care Patient” or “NPCP”
  • An inpatient in a hospital or correctional institution where the duration of treatment with a drug of dependence does not exceed 14 days
  • A patient discharged from a hospital following an inpatient stay and the duration of treatment after discharge does not exceed 14 days

Veterinary surgeons are not required to hold an authority to treat animal patients.

‘Locum’ prescribing

A prescriber working in the same practice as the authorised prescriber or a locum prescriber acting under the direction of the authorised prescriber may continue to prescribe authorised treatment in the short term absence of the authorised prescriber. Any prescribing must be in accordance with the conditions of the granted authority.

How are authority applications reviewed?

See below a list of documents which explain how different authority applications are reviewed:

How prescriptions for drugs of dependence are to be written (what they must contain)

Prescriptions must include:

  • prescriber name, address, telephone number and signature
  • date on which the prescription is written
  • patients full name and address
  • patient’s date of birth
  • the quantity to be supplied in words and numerals
  • in the case of veterinary prescriptions to treat an animal; the species of animal, name if applicable, and the name and address of the owner of the animal

More information is available on the Legal requirements for the prescription and supply of drugs of dependence page

Faxing prescriptions

Prescriptions for drugs of dependence may be sent by fax for a pharmacist to dispense, but generally must be followed with the original prescription being forwarded to the pharmacist within 24 hours of faxing the prescription. However, a faxed prescription that has been endorsed with the name and address of a single pharmacy that may dispense the prescription does not need to be followed-up with a confirmatory prescription.

Recognising and handling drug dependent persons

Information is available on ways you can recognise and handle people who are drug dependent. This fact sheet includes

  • common characteristics
  • typical tactics
  • the consequences of prescribing a drug of dependence for a dependent person
  • legal obligations
  • recommended actions

Appeal options

There are appeal options for administrative decisions made by the Drugs of Dependence Unit. The appeal options vary for patients and doctors. More information is available on the following pages:

Customer Service Benchmarks

The Drugs of Dependence Unit is committed to customer service standards when delivering its products and services. We aim to deliver products and services both in a timely manner and to a high quality.

New correspondence, including authority applications, is actioned or acknowledged within 14 days.

Contact for Drug and Alcohol Clinical Advisory Service (DACAS)

For assistance and support on clinical issues, contact the DACAS on telephone (08) 7087 1743.

DACAS is a 24-hour service for doctors, nurses and other health professionals seeking medical advice in managing people experiencing alcohol or other drug-related problems.

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