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Health bodies have called for a ‘future-proof’ approach to ensure sustainable access to prescription opioids for people receiving palliative care. 

Twelve peak health organisations including Palliative Care Nurses Australia, the Australian College of Nursing and the Australian College of Nurse Practitioners  released a position statement last week.

The statement warns palliative care patients are being placed at risk of harm as an unintended consequence of increased government and regulatory restrictions surrounding non-cancer opioid prescribing to reduce the misuse and abuse of opioids within the wider community.

“All Australians receiving palliative care must be able to access necessary and appropriate evidence based opioids to manage and prevent suffering from uncontrolled pain and other symptoms,” Palliative Care Australia’s National Clinical Advisor and Palliative Care Nurse Practitioner Kate Reed said.

Evidence shows up to 25% of palliative care patients report severe pain in advanced disease, while up to 60% experience pain that causes them distress in the last four months of life.

The position statement makes eight recommendations to future proof sustainable opioid management in Australia, including that all prescribers are enabled to access appropriate opioids for those with life-limiting illness.

“Opioids are an essential part of the pharmacological options needed to help relieve the pain and/or breathlessness that may be experienced by someone living with a life-limiting illness. It is therefore essential that authorised prescribers of opioid analgesics, including GPs, palliative care specialists and nurse practitioners are given adequate support to treat their patients’ pain needs promptly and appropriately without unnecessary regulatory barriers,” Ms Reed said.

There is an urgent need to increase the understanding of appropriate use of opioids within the Australian palliative care context and provide greater leadership and guidance to authorities as they reviewed regulatory processes, Ms Reed added.

“The misuse and overprescribing of opioids is a serious health issue that must be addressed. However, it must not be at the expense of people receiving palliative care who have a human right to access medicines including opioids.”

The Sustainable access to prescription opioids in palliative care position statement is available at