My adjournment matter is to the Minister for Mental Health, who unfortunately has just left the chamber.
The action I seek is that he establish a full methadone service in the Shepparton district which has the flexibility to cater for the particular needs of our regional community.
Opioid addiction is a significant issue in my electorate, not only in terms of illicit drugs such as heroin but also in terms of prescription opiates such as morphine and oxycodone.
Doctors have reported increasing misuse of prescription drugs and high instances of overdose.
As the minister will no doubt be aware, methadone is a prescription drug that assists people manage their opioid dependence and requires a GP to prescribe it and a pharmacy to dispense it. This is a real problem in Shepparton. For many years arrangements have been ad hoc and unsatisfactory. Representatives in the medical, legal and social welfare system have often spoken to me of their frustrations in getting people access to an appropriate service. I am told the government favours a community-based approach to methadone treatment, but within the framework Shepparton is left with only a handful of doctors and pharmacies willing to provide access to the treatment.
This raises several issues. Firstly, those using methadone in our region rarely have access to daily dispensing and often leave pharmacies with takeaway dosages, which is against best practice of methadone treatment. While Melburnians may be able to walk or take public transport to a neighbouring suburb to access a weekend or out-of-hours facility, in regional Victoria we do not have that luxury. There seems also to be a serious gap in the education and training of our healthcare professionals to give them the confidence to provide the service the community needs.
As the minister would appreciate, people beginning methadone treatment are often dealing with complex issues and experiencing a very volatile period in their lives. It is no surprise really that some owners of pharmacies and medical practices in my electorate have been reluctant to assist. It would seem appropriate that these people, those at the pointy end of tackling their drug addiction, have access to specialised programs that could also connect them with relevant counselling and other social support services. We do not want to be creating barriers to treatment for people who are ready to seek help for themselves. Once they are in the program and stabilised, there is no reason why the majority of people could not be transitioned back out to those community-based frameworks if the services are there.
I urge the minister to work with healthcare providers in the Shepparton district to develop a fit-for-purpose local solution, which I expect could also provide a blueprint for tackling similar issues in other areas of regional Victoria.