s Final Concord seminar (ever): life beyond maintenance ... | I2P: Information to Pharmacists - Archive
Publication Date 01/12/2011         Volume. 3 No. 11   
Information to Pharmacists


From the desk of the editor

There is no other word for it other than depressing.
The world of pharmacy is falling on its own sword with pharmacist organisations at loggerheads with pharmacy organisations, principally the PGA.
Essentially it is wrong for a minority pharmacy organisation to dominate all others and leave in its wake some very unhappy people.
It is not a pretty sight seeing the juggernaut that is the PGA begin the process of decimation, wasting  resources in a negative fashion that ought to have been distributed more equitably.
It is neither smart or strategic to be entering into warfare when leadership would offer the more decent alternative.

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News Flash

Newsflash Updates for December 2011 & January 2012

Newsflash Updates

Regular weekly updates that supplement the regular monthly homepage edition of i2P.
Access and click on the title links that are illustrated.

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Pipeline for Dec. 2011 & Jan.2012

Pipeline Extras

A range of global and local news snippets and links that may be of interest to readers.
Pipeline Extra simply broadens the range of topics that can be concentrated in one delivery of i2P to your desktop.

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Feature Contribution


Dr John Dunlop (PGDipPharm, MPharm, DPharm(Auck), FACPP, FNZCP, FPSNZ, MCAPA)

Over the past year I have written about the need to recognize and remunerate pharmacists appropriately in order that pharmacy can take a necessary step forward in the new Millenium. Following are some points that are worthy of note.

1. In New Zealand, we now have approximately four hundred owners of pharmacies. Within this group, incomes range between $200,000 and $600,000.00. The average income for an employed pharmacist working in community pharmacy is around $65,000.00, and the salaries for young graduates in Auckland, (and Melbourne too I believe) is $24.00 per hour - around $48,000.00 per year. Not much of a reward for 5 years of study and very indicative of the value and respect placed on the employed professional by the employer!!! 

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Inquiry into the PBS – GET IT RIGHT FIRST TIME

Rollo Manning

A failing in the push for a Senate Inquiry into the 5th Community Pharmacy Agreement is recognition that the Pharmacy Guild is named in the National Health Act as the party the Government must liaise with before making decisions on fees paid to pharmacists for supply and services.
It is not the Society of Hospital Pharmacists, the Pharmaceutical Society, the National Australian Pharmacy Students Association or APESMA - but the Pharmacy Guild.
It is therefore no wonder that the Guild is the party at the negotiating table.
An amendment to the National Health Act would be needed to change this and while there is a Clause that says another organisation can be included if it represents a majority of pharmacists this has never been tested.

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Who’s driving our Heath Robinson?

Neil Retallick

Last month I likened the community pharmacy industry to a “Heath Robinson”.
According to Wikipedia, “William Heath Robinson (signed as W. Heath Robinson, 31 May 1872 – 13 September 1944) was an English cartoonist and illustrator, best known for drawings of eccentric machines....
In the UK, the term "Heath Robinson" has entered the language as a description of any unnecessarily complex and implausible contraption...”
This month I’m worried about who’s driving it.

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It's Raining Training

Barry Urquhart

Some choice.
For most business leaders and owners the next decade will provide scope for two strategic options - "hard" or "bad".
A touch of reality is needed.
It will be a daunting prospect for some. For others, who do not recognise or appreciate the unfolding marketplace there will be blissful ignorance and a shortened business life.
Among those who are "hanging on until things turn up for the better", there will be disappointment.
This is not the time to hang in our hang out.
Let me emphasise, the circumstances being confronted at present are neither cyclical nor seasonal. They are structural and accordingly, changes are essential in philosophies, operations and outputs.
The next three years will inevitably be "bad" for those who adopt a "victim mentality" and do little or nothing. Those well-reported "headwinds" will remain and will eventually push the inert (becalmed) "boats" backwards and out of the race.
Rationalisations and consolidations will be in evidence across a wide sweep of industry sectors. Established companies, brands, products and services will disappear from the corporate landscape, replaced by high-energy, and focused new applications, innovations and belief-driven entrepreneurs.
Thus from "bad" will come "good".

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Man bites dog – mongrel rules needed

Pat Gallagher

Here I am.
Back from another lengthy and self enforced break and reporting in i2P on things and matters with ICT in pharmacy-land and health generally.
It is not that I am lazy.
It is that there hasn’t been much ‘news’ happening worth getting our knickers in a knot.
It is all the same old; same old in e-health playing field and that is rather uninspiring to say the least. So I have taken the view that if there is nothing positive to say it’s best to stay stum.
But now as 2011 is coming to a rattling death perhaps there are some things worth saying, usefully or otherwise.
What is a snapshot of some of the year’s achievements in the e-health community?
Hard to say that the world is on fire with overwhelming success, but a summary of the activities that might interest the i2P reader, in some order of oomph are:

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A TGA-Managed Database of Fully Evaluated Complementary Medicines Evidence – a Real Possibility

Neil Johnston

Last month when the controversy surrounding the PGA/Blackmore’s proposed alliance brought out a large number of critics, the PGA found itself in an extremely vulnerable position.
Some criticism was well-deserved - other criticism arose from misperception surrounding the proposed alliance, while other criticism evolved surrounding the “evidence” relied on by the alliance to underpin their clinical promotion - was blown out of all proportion, or negatively criticised.
More positively, academic Dr Ken Harvey called for the TGA to manage an evidence database for complementary medicines that have had a full evaluation.

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Hypnotherapists - Hero's or heisters?

Loretta Marron OAM BSc

He spoke softly as he lifted my arm while telling me it would stay afloat.  It didn't. 
In fact, several times during the session, it fell back to my side no matter he said. 
While I felt reasonably relaxed after my first visit to a hypnotherapist, I left disappointed. 
So does hypnotherapy work and why do some of my skeptical friends support it and, more interestingly, why do they say it is part of acupuncture?

Comments: 1

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Support services for pharmacists and doctors in the United Kingdom – Part 2 Practitioner Health Programme

Kay Dunkley - BPharm, Grad Dip Hosp Pharm, Grad Dip Health Admin, MPS, MSHPA

In Australia the Pharmacists’ Support Service (PSS) provides a listening ear and support over the telephone to pharmacists in Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and the Northern Territory and has plans for expansion to all states of Australia.  The medical profession in Australia has a range of state based Doctors’ Health Advisory Services including the AMA Victoria Peer Support Service which provides peer support over the telephone.  Victorian is the only state to have a state based health program for doctors; the Victorian Doctors Health Program (VDHP)
Funding from the Cyril Tonkin Fellowship enabled me to undertake a study tour of services which support pharmacists and doctors in the United Kingdom (UK) in March 2011.

The aim of the visit was to find out how these services support the health and well being of pharmacists and doctors, including the services provided and how they are funded.

The support services visited were Pharmacist Support, including participation in a Listening Friends training weekend; the Royal Pharmaceutical Society; the Practitioner Health Programme; the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund; the British Medical Association Doctors for Doctors program and the National Clinical Assessment Service.  In addition to obtain background material on the environment for health professionals in the United Kingdom visits were also made to the General Pharmaceutical Council; Manchester University School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and the Pharmacy Department of the Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
This article is the second in a series reporting on my visit and will detail the services available to doctors and dentists living in London through the Practitioner Health Programme.

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Rollo Manning

The future supply of pharmacists to work in Aboriginal health is healthy if the outcome of a National Australian Pharmacy Students’ Association survey is anything to go by.
While 83% of respondents felt it is important to be taught about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health issues as part of their pharmacy course curriculum, only 60% have access to such education. Furthermore, only half of those respondents feel they are taught enough about this topic.

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Thankful for an MRI

Mark Neuenschwander

I’ve been thinking about magnetic resonance imaging, sleeping bags, allergies, and great hospitals.
Well, I went in for an MRI, and the diagnosis was not good: Claustrophobia. But I’m getting ahead myself.
While studying x-rays of my shoulder, my doc ordered an MRI. I told him we were nearing eight on the p
ain scale and pressed for the earliest appointment.
Seven o’clock the next morning, after being scanned for metal, a rad tech strapped me to the transport board and pushed a button.
Moving into the magnetic abyss, I felt like dead man walking. Except, I couldn’t walk. But I could talk. It took about two seconds to find my authoritative voice:
She got the hint, and I was pardoned.

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The power of 'why'

Harvey Mackay

Whether you're managing a team of employees or you're on your own, remember that although what you do and how you do it are important, it's the "why" that provides real motivation to succeed.
An experiment conducted by the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business demonstrates the power of "why." 
At a university call center where employees phone alumni to solicit contributions to scholarship funds, the staff was randomly divided into three groups:  The first group read stories written by former call center employees about the benefits of the job (such as improved communication and sales skills).  The second group shared accounts from former students about how their scholarships helped them with their education, careers and lives. 
The third, a control group, read nothing, just explained the purpose of the call and asked for a contribution.

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The Farmerscy Guild and the straw man argument

Geoff March PhD B.Pharm

Straw Man “An argument deliberately put up so that it can be knocked down, usually as a distraction from other arguments which cannot be so easily countered,”  - The Macquarie Dictionary.

Comments: 2

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Kos Sclavos Superstar

Peter Sayers

It appears that pharmacists, in general, are tired of the leadership style imposed by Kos Sclavos, the incumbent president of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia (PGA).
While criticism of PGA leadership style and policy has been building for some time, opposition solidified recently with formation of the Pharmacy Coalition for Health Reform – a body that boasts over 20,000 pharmacists among its membership.

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NAPSA and the PGA

Neil Johnston

Recently, i2P was sent a media release from APESMA, the pharmacist trade union.
It was embargoed until Saturday December 10, which was a point at the beginning of the i2P update cycle.
The release contained a link to an email that is alleged to have emanated from NAPSA – the National Australian Pharmacy Students' Association.
Because it was politically sensitive to that organisation and because it also contained a number of normally private contact details for their members, i2P decided to withhold the information unless it became public knowledge through other media sources - and that has happened..
The email provided the basis for published claims that the PGA was engaged in a bullying process with NAPSA to force their disengagement with the newly-formed PCHR- the Pharmacist Coalition for Health Reform, and it is hard to avoid this view when an examination of the pressures exerted by the PGA are examined in broad daylight.

Comments: 1

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Where is the Best Future Business Model for Pharmacy?

Neil Johnston

Because it is near the end of the year, I thought it appropriate to highlight one of our earlier articles published in July 2010, because it gave a foretaste of things to come -
 “The New Competitors- Wholesalers, Manufacturers, Pharmacists and Nurses”
The gist of the article was that because global pharma companies would be unable to sustain the “blockbuster” business model and that there would be only modest growth in future drug developments, an unstoppable chain reaction would begin to occur where global pharma would create a new disruptive business model that would remove wholesaler discounts and begin a process of different segments of the health services “scavenging” from each other.

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Pharmacy Needs a Peak Body

Neil Johnston

Once upon a time pharmacy was a small, typically one-person show that focussed on patients (as distinct from customers).
It was considered very bad form if a patient presented with a problem and ;
(i) they were not immediately attended to by a qualified pharmacist and;
(ii) they left the pharmacy holding a product in their hands that had not been personally compounded by the pharmacist.
Most patients asked for “their pharmacist” by name and entered into an obvious and valued pharmacist/patient relationship. The care was obvious and not substituted with branded medicines or had the patient interviews delegated to pharmacy assistants or technicians.
In other words the human relationships were respectful and this respect extended between pharmacists as a collegiate relationship.

Comments: 1

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Come to Shop – Return to Learn

Neil Johnston

I started the New Year by researching retail environments that could be adapted to pharmacy and deliver pharmacy 2012 marketing requirements, with emphasis on "professional".
When I got to the Apple retail environment, it simply jumped off the page.
This could be the most important article you read this year.
Few would realise that the title to this article is actually the slogan for Apple Retail Stores, and is in fact the base philosophy behind one of the most successful forms of retail enterprise experienced in the 21st century.
The story of the Apple retail experience has a direct translation across to the malaise that is currently being felt by most Australian pharmacists, so a brief history of the Apple company may help to illuminate a realigned direction for community pharmacy that would capitalise on its strengths and help get off the discount treadmill.

Comments: 3

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A New Escalation of Turf Wars - Is the best defence, offence?

Mark Coleman

Recently I noticed an article published in "The Conversation" authored by John Dwyer Emeritus Professor at University of New South Wales. The article opens with:

"It’s difficult enough to counter the massive amount of misleading information provided to consumers through the media and online. But the task becomes much harder when tertiary institutes give an undeserved imprimatur to pseudo disciplines by offering them as courses. Central Queensland University (CQU) is the latest to do so, announcing it will offer a Bachelor of Science degree (Chiropractic) from 2012. I’m one of thirty-four doctors, scientists and clinical academics who, in an attempt to protect health-care consumers from the dangers associated with unscientific clinical practices, have today written to the science deans at CQU urging them, as fellow academics, to reconsider this decision.
We want the deans to acknowledge the importance of our universities remaining champions of rigorous academic standards and remind them of the primacy of the evidence base for scientific conclusions and health-care practices." Read more at this link

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New Year Uncertainty

Peter Sayers

Coming up to speed after the festive break, I have been astounded at the number of community pharmacy prescription out-of-stocks, both short-term and long-term, that are mounting by the day.
This has a number of financial impacts on a community pharmacy and one assumes that the PGA has a strategy to lessen these impacts - but where is it?

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Take care of your customers or someone else will

Harvey Mackay

No business can stay in business without customers.
How customers are treated and sadly, mistreated, determines how long the doors stay open. Poor quality service has probably doomed as many businesses as poor quality products.
Enter the "guru of customer service," John Tschohl.
He earned that moniker from USA Today, Time and Entrepreneur magazines. After 31 years focused solely on customer service, he is president of Service Quality Institute, which has representatives in 40 countries.
He's authored hundreds of articles and six best-selling books. And he is willing to share his wisdom with my readers. I don't often devote so much of my column to one resource, but John is the best of the best.


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Nicola Roxon’s Parting Advice

Neil Johnston

I was thumbing through my January copy of the AJP when I noticed a small column covering a conversation with Nicola Roxon, the ex-Minister for Health and Ageing.
She, along with other commentators on the same page, was basically encouraging pharmacists to “jump in” to reform health.
The encouraged pathway was through fee for service arrangements, some of which are covered under the 5CPA.

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Big Pharma impacts on the pharmacy profession

Peter Jackson

“Staff in almost one fifth of pharmacies could be wasting more than five hours per week, the equivalent of one month's working time a year, trying to source out-of-stock medicines.”
So claims a report published in the UK newsletter Chemist & Druggist this month.
The report goes on to claim:

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Do you have the urge to speak out?

Mark Coleman

With all the change and distress that is apparent in all ranks of pharmacy at the moment, do you have the urge to lash out at someone or some organisation or just something?
All pharmacists want to evolve their version of an ethical practice, balancing some commercialism with professional core business – whether they own a pharmacy or not.
Multiple groupings of pharmacists have formed up around each special interest and this has created a range of competitive groups, some more aggressive than others, to compete for absolute dominance of pharmacy – and endeavour to create a single voice.

Comments: 1

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Drug Shortages Require Urgent Government Intervention

Neil Johnston

When something does not make sense I always find there is a political objective involved.
And underlying the politics always is the motivation of greed.
Make no mistake about it, Australian pharmacy is about to enter a period of manipulation never before experienced, and it involves supply chain manipulation by government and by Big Pharma.
It is globally orchestrated and tactics vary slightly country to country and the victims of this strategy are very ill patients and the pharmacies behind them desperately trying to bridge supply to keep them alive.

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Staff Writer

APESMA today proposed a new Terms of Reference for a Senate Inquiry into pharmacy which focuses on new potential benefits to the pharmacy profession including providing a role for pharmacists in medicare locals and GP clinics and new measures to reform the health care system.
Mr Walton said despite incorrect and mischievous claims by the Pharmacy Guild there was nothing in the Senate Inquiry before the Senate that would cause the current Community Pharmacy Agreement to cease.

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Pharmacists heading to Hobart for Medicines Management 2011, the 37th SHPA National Conference

Staff Writer

More than 850 delegates will be in Hobart this week for Medicines Management 2011, the 37th SHPA National Conference.

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SHPA commences celebration of a milestone year at Medicines Management 2011, the 37th SHPA National Conference

Staff Writer

At Medicines Management 2011, the 37th SHPA National Conference, SHPA will celebrate 50 years as a national organisation and 70 years since its inception.
In 1941, 25 pioneer pharmacists from public hospitals in Victoria first conceived SHPA, and in 1961 SHPA moved formally to become a national organisation and held its first national conference in Adelaide.

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Bill Thomson receives SHPA’s highest award

Staff Writer

Medicines Management 2011, the 37th SHPA National Conference opened today in Hobart.  With over 800 delegates, 80 presented papers and 200 posters, this year’s conference is yet another example of the enthusiasm and dedication of pharmacists in hospitals and other parts of the healthcare system to share their work and learn from their peers.

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Australian Clinical Pharmacy Award 2011 to Adelaide Pharmacist, Greg Roberts

Staff Writer

During Medicines Management 2011, the 37th SHPA National Conference, held in Hobart last weekend, the SHPA Australian Clinical Pharmacy Award for 2011 was awarded to Mr Greg Roberts, Clinical Research Pharmacist at the Repatriation General Hospital in Adelaide.

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Pharmacist Coalition for Health Reform and the call for a Senate Inquiry

Staff Writer

SHPA believes that consumer interests should be at the centre of health delivery and the health reform agenda.  SHPA members have a strong ethos of working collaboratively within interdisciplinary healthcare teams and across the continuum of care.

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NTU-led research probes potential link between cancer and a common chemical in consumer products

Staff Writer

Editor's Note: Nano-particles have been adopted by various manufacturers of consumer products because they improve absorption of their active ingredients and the cosmetic appearance of the product.
Early researchers in this field warned that conditions similar to mesothelioma may result through exposure to nano-particles and that more research is required before endangering the general public.
Very few manufacturers identify that their products contain nano-particles, but recent studies have confirmed the potential for an association with cancer.
Certainly, the least that needs to occur is a warning label, particularly as some sunscreen preparations contain zinc oxide.
It is ironical that the Australian Cancer Council promote the message of "slip, slop and slap" yet allows for another form of potential cancer exposure through the "back door" involving nano-particles in sunscreen products, including the zinc oxide identified in the following study.

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Apply First Aid – Guild Clinical 2012

Staff Writer

Guild Clinical is pleased to announce the course dates for Apply First Aid 2012.
REVIVA First Aid Training provides industry specific, highly interactive training perfect for pharmacists, graduates and pharmacy assistants.

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Award Winning NPS IPhone APP Now Includes a Medicines Reminder Function

NPS Spokesperson

No more forgetting to take your medicine! NPS has introduced a range of new features to its award-winning Medicines List iPhone app that allow people to schedule in reminders to prompt them to take their medicine.
As part of the upgrade, people can also record whether they took their medicine on time — and if not, why not, which is useful information to share when they next see their doctor.

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ASMI response to TGA reform blueprint

Bob Bowden

The Australian Self-Medication Industry (ASMI) today welcomed the announcement of a series of significant reforms to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and the regulation of non-prescription products.
The measures will impact areas including product advertising and promotion, regulation of complementary medicines, and the transparency of TGA decision-making.

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New test to indicate likely spread or recurrence of breast cancer

Staff Writer

A Queensland University of Technology (QUT) PhD student has developed a potential breakthrough test for predicting the likelihood of the spread or return of breast cancer.
"While in recent years there have been fantastic advances in the treatment of breast cancer there has been no way of predicting its progress," said Helen McCosker, a PhD student at the Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation (IHBI).

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PSA Releases Guidance For Pharmacists Using Internet and Social Media

Staff Writer

In our July edition of i2P, Kay Dunkley wrote an excellent article relating to social media and its use by health professionals. In that article Kay noted:
The Medical Journal of Australia recently published an excellent article on the topic of social media and the medical profession. It was this article that prompted me to write this opinion piece and I recommend that it should be read by all health professionals who are users of social media. I believe that many of the issues raised for medical practitioners are equally applicable to pharmacists and other health professionals. That article can be found at http://www.mja.com.au/publicissues/194_12_200611/man10874_fm.html

Now the PSA have weighed in with an official version for pharmacists.

Comments: 1

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Athletes warming up incorrectly

Staff Writer

Dynamic warm-ups included range of motion activities like high-knee raises, leg swings and run-throughs or change of direction tasks.
Mr Zois said the study proved that, from a power point of view, static stretching was worse than no warm up at all.

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Last Pre-Christmas News Roundup- APESMA - Australian Prescriber - NSW Guild - NPS on Methotrexate - PSA - Competency Tool

Staff Writer

i2P news and articles will continue to be published weekly over the Christmas/New Year period, but not quite so "in-depth".
You are invited to explore the recent archives of i2P when you begin to plan for the coming year.
We also encourage you to post comments at the foot of each published item.
i2P knows that the coming year will be more challenging than in previous years.
It will be a year of sorting out priorities - those within the industry wishing to needlessly fight to prop up inappropriate structures will be seen to waste time and resources.
They will be judged harshly by participants at the "coalface"- the silent majority.

i2P hopes that all of its subscribers have a peaceful and safe festive season.

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No Deaths from Vitamins - America's Largest Database Confirms Supplement Safety

Staff Writer

The following news item from Orthomolecular.org adds one more dimension to the debate on nutritional supplements. It seems that safety is definitely not an issue where nutritional supplements are used.

Comments: 3

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Multiple medicines may double fall rate for young and middle aged

Staff Writer

Editor's Note: In Australia, criteria for generating a medication review includes a patient currently taking five or more regular medicines or taking more than 12 doses of medicine per day.
Patient falls are a major reason for patients being admitted to a hospital and quite commonly, patients are further damaged through falls while they are already in a hospital.
The system currently requires a referral by a GP to an accredited pharmacist, which is a slow and cumbersome (sometimes very unrewarding) process.

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Pharmedia: Academic Manipulation & the Growth of "Junk Science"

Neil Johnston

Editor"s Note: Global Pharma has an unusual and pervasive influence on politicians, regulators and statutory bodies around the globe.
I’ve always had a philosophy of recognising that when things do not go as they are supposed to, first look at the surrounding politics and then follow the money trail.
In the US the main regulator for drug registration and marketing is the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which has come under greater scrutiny by industry commentators because of seemingly corrupt and improper decisions increasingly made in favour of drug manufacturers.

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Does the PGA Really Represent its Members

Neil Johnston

This month we have selected a media story that appeared in Pharmacy News on the 3 November 2011, and it is story of the continuing saga of direct distribution by Pfizer.
The bigger story underneath is - what is the Pharmacy Guild of Australia doing to represent its members in this ongoing dispute?
i2P has covered the direct distribution saga since its inception here in Australia.
The problem seems to be worsening rather than improving, so we have asked Mark Coleman to comment.
His comments appear below the media item that follows.

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Final Concord seminar (ever): life beyond maintenance ...

Dr Andrew Byrne & Associates

articles by this author...

A Harm-Minimisation Research Perspective: Dr Byrne (and his associates) advocate for better policies which are proven to reduce risks for drug users and the general community, under a framework in parallel with Australia’s official policy of harm minimisation.

Final Concord seminar (ever): life beyond maintenance ...

"The Exit Strategy Part 2: Is there life after methadone?"

Tuesday December 7 2010 saw the final Dependency Seminar at Concord Hospital, which concluded with a presentation of native flowers and thanks to Andrew Byrne, whose energy and organizing skills whose energy and organizing skills kept the Concord Seminars going over more than a decade. The series continues in similar format and new venue, at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.

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Nick Lintzeris and Richard Hallinan presented an overview of published evidence about duration of opioid substitution treatment (OST), withdrawal and reduction regimens, "cycling in and out of treatment", the relative ease of reductions for methadone and buprenorphine and other matters.

Key points:

People come off OST in numerous ways, the most common methods are simply jumping off, and gradual reductions.

The issue of exit from OST should be discussed openly at the time of treatment induction.

There should be a shared understanding of when coming off treatment is likely to be successful, and clear milestones for achieving this.

Abstinence from problematic substance use, and psychosocial stability are generally preconditions for coming off OST.

Psychoeducation is important to allay inappropriate fears about coming off treatment.

Patients need to understand that their body takes time to adjust (reverse neuroadaption to opioids) - it's not just a matter of "the methadone getting out of my system”.

A flexible menu of options for coming of treatment should be offered, as well as after care.

There is no evidence that transfer from methadone to buprenorphine improves the chances of sustainably coming off OST, but it is one of the menu of options.


A common complaint about opioid substitution treatment (OST) is that there is "no exit strategy". People talk of liquid handcuffs, and critics claim OST just keeps people addicted forever.

How should the health professionals respond to a request for reductions toward abstinence? Is there any evidence to guide professional practice?

Richard Hallinan began by pointing out that people come off OST all the time, with retention rates varying from 40-70% after 12 months. Some "jump off" treatment, others use shorter or longer tapers of methadone or buprenorphine, or accelerated withdrawal regimens. But many or most of these people return to OST. There is a common pattern of cycling in and out of treatment, particularly with buprenorphine.

RH proposed to discuss "exit" from OST in terms of coming off treatment "sustainably". In the absence of an agreed definition he proposed a working definition: “sustainable exit” means not needing to return to OST.

Sadly, there is very little evidence for how this be best done. Korner and Waal (2005) reviewed the issue of reductions off MMT and found studies heterogenous, poorly described, methods and results extremely various. A total of 1900 people in 14 studies were followed up for 1 to 24 months after reductions off MMT, with reductions ranging over periods up to 7 months, with sustained periods of abstinence achieved by 33%, ranging from 22% to 86%.

Interestingly the 86% figure comes from Andrew Byrne's 9-year follow up published in 2000.

RH proposed some preconditions for sustainably coming off OST. There should be:
• no current injecting drug use nor problematic other substance use (otherwise there is a likelihood of relapse, or "swapping the witch for the bitch", ie substituting other drugs);
• no "chemical coping" with life stresses;
• psychosocial stability, including stable mental health (no uncontrolled mood or anxiety disorders) and stable housing; and
• no uncontrolled chronic pain.

As to when to start reducing off OST, RH proposed there should usually be 3-6 months since last problematic opioid use, and since last injecting drug use. The journey of reductions doesn't really begin until you achieve a probationary period of abstinence. Every time a person in OST injects, they are resetting the "trip meter" on their journey.

Should the reductions by a fixed or physician determined protocol, or flexible patient determined protocol with room to rest on the way? The small number of published benefit shows no clear benefit for physician regulation.

How fast should reductions be? 10% per 3-4 days (as for example at the residential facility WHOS MTAR: see Concord Summary from 2005), or 10% per week, or per month? Senay et al (1977) randomised MMT patients to 3% or 10% weekly reductions, and those reducing by the slower protocol did clearly better on a number of measures.

Should reductions be linear (straight down) or inverse exponential (landing like an aeroplane)? Strang and Gossop (1990) compared linear with inverse exponential reductions and found no benefit for the latter: perhaps because the reductions were completed within 10 days. One's impression is that most physicians and patients elect smaller dose reductions as their dose gets smaller.

Many people describe having "hit a wall" during attempts at methadone reductions, often after 4 or 5 successful dose reductions, and actually increased their dose again after that.

RH suggested one way of understanding the phenomenon of "hitting a wall" during reductions: consider the pattern of symptom recovery from one reduction, and then imagine what happens when you add more reductions.

Previous studies from the Maudsley showed symptoms peaking at the very end of both 10 and 21 day methadone reductions protocols, and declining slowly (and apparently inverse exponentially!) after that, persisting in a long "tail" up to 40 days (Gossop et al 1987, 1989).

Thus, after early rapid improvement of symptoms from one dose reduction, a person may be tempted to add another reduction, even though the "tail" of symptoms from the previous reduction persists. If enough "tails" accumulate, one is left with significant symptoms with no sign of improvement day to day: "hitting a wall".

Patients need to understand that their body takes time to adjust (reverse neuroadaption to opioids) - it's not just a matter of "the methadone getting out of my system", as many people imagine.

RH suggested reduction of 10% of the current dose (ie inverse exponential), every 3-4/weeks, resting whenever necessary, with the prescriber "pulling on the reins", as patients are often keen to reduce more quickly.

How long would it take to get off methadone at this rate? From 200mg methadone there are about 31 reductions. For example: 200mg - 180 - 165 - 150 - 135 - 120 - 110 - 100 - 90 - 80 - 70 - 62.5 - 55 - 50 - 45 - 40 - 35 - 32.5 - 30 - 27.5 - 25 - 22.5 - 20 - 17.5 - 15 - 12.5 - 10 - 8 - 6 - 4 - 2 - 0.

At 3 weeks between reductions, that’s 93 weeks to come off 200mg. Compare that with reductions from 100mg (24 reductions = 72 weeks) or from 50mg (19 reductions = 57 weeks).

The bottom end reductions take most of the time.

To put that in perspective, RH referred to a study from The Redfern Clinic (Hallinan et al 2006) which found each 50mg of increased methadone dose doubled the odds of not using heroin, the same odds achieved by staying an extra 34 months on MMT at the same dose.

Thus a higher dose may get people on the road to reductions much sooner, more than compensating for the modest increase in time required for reductions.

Of course, at some point people have to jump off (otherwise the frog would never reach the wall). Some people jump at 10mg. One patient of the Byrne surgery continued on 1mg methadone/day for many months.

Is coming off buprenorphine maintenance any easier?

Although there is some evidence for the superiority of buprenorphine for opioid withdrawal management (Gowing et al 2009), there is no published evidence to demonstrate sustainable reductions off maintenance pharmacotherapy are easier or quicker with buprenorphine, nor any evidence that transfer from MMT to buprenorphine with subsequent reductions is more effective than reductions off methadone maintenance (though it is feasible: Breen et al 2003). Top end buprenorphine reductions may be particularly easy where the daily dose exceeds receptor saturation (typically above 16 mg/day).

RH's advice is: don't transfer from methadone to buprenorphine for the sake of it; don't transfer to buprenorphine if methadone reductions are going well; but if the methadone dose is no longer "holding" 24 hours, there is a reasonable chance buprenorphine will last better. Methadone to buprenorphine transfer doesn't always succeed, and it can be disappointing to end up on 32mg buprenorphine when transferring from 25mg of methadone!

Nick Lintzeris advised us to take much of what RH had said with a grain of salt!

People come off OST every which way, is the long and short of it. His rule of thumb is that 1/3 of people find coming off MMT easy and 1/3 find it very difficult.

Breen et al (2003) found a majority of people on low dose methadone maintenance randomized to buprenorphine based reductions lasting up to 16 weeks managed to reduce to zero, but only 31% were abstinent from opiates a month later. The published evidence for long-term benefit of “rapid opioid detoxification” is equivocal at best (see seminar summary of The Exit Strategy Part 1).

NL pointed out that although many people would like to come off OST, many are daunted by the prospect; as are their care providers. A large cross-sectional study of MMT clients found only 17% had interest, confidence and good prospects for methadone reductions. Clinic staff and doctors were less optimistic about post-withdrawal outcomes than patients. (Lenné et al 2001).

NL also cited a recent study "Should I stay or should I go?" Coming off methadone and buprenorphine treatment. (Winstock et al 2010), showing high levels of interest and low levels of confidence in coming off OST; interest being higher in people who had been on treatment longer. Surprisingly, the most common method previously used was jumping off treatment (though perhaps that is why they were back in treatment). The idea of physician regulated-reductions was more popular among clients than patient-regulated.

But it is true that we have little research to guide us. We were reminded of the historical context: the first days of MMT in which the opioid treatment was seen as replacement in a neurochemical deficiency syndrome, with the expectation that the treatment would be long term, followed by a swing toward low dose and limited duration treatment in the 1990s. As evidence showed inferior results for lower doses and shorter treatments, by the middle years of this decade the swing was back to higher doses and longer treatment.

The fight to establish a person's right to stay on OST, if they need and want to, may have overshadowed considerations about how to end the treatment. It is particularly telling that one of the measures of treatment success in opioid pharmacotherapy is RETENTION in treatment.

NL pointed out that little is known about the long term consequences of opioid pharmacotherapy on physical health, as the patient cohort ages: 16% of OST patients in Australia are over the age of 50, and as they grow older, there will be increasing problems with other medical illnesses, medication interactions, transport and mobility issues, and the cost of continuing supervised dosing.

NL proposed that the issue of an exit from treatment should be discussed openly at the time of treatment induction. There should be a shared understanding of when coming off treatment is likely to be successful, and clear milestones for achieving this.P Psychoeducation is important to allay inappropriate fears about coming off treatment and a flexible menu of options for coming of treatment should be offered, as well as after care. Clearly we need more research on this subject.

There were two cases presented:

Hugh, 47 yo, was already 20 years on MMT, and his last heroin many years ago, though he continued weekly to monthly cocaine use. His highest previous MMT dose was 170mg and current dose 110mg. Previous reductions had stalled at 80mg, several times. He had decided he would never be able to get his dose under 80mg.

Detailed history revealed morning anxiety, butterflies in stomach especially when attending for supervised doses at 8am (take-home doses he consumed at 5am). Anxiety interfered with his work, sometimes feels afraid to go out. Hugh used occasional diazepam to assist with this, mainly on days of supervised dosing. On examination pre-dose Hugh had huge pupils and a pulse of 94. He was visibly anxious.

Hugh was offered a trial of low dose fluvoxamine 25mg mane, increased to 50mg/day with considerable improvement in his anxiety. Advised that methadone reductions would fail while his cocaine use continued, he indeed ceased cocaine use. At time of writing his methadone dose had reached 15 mg by logarithmic reductions over 2 years. Reductions were supported by PRN dispensing of small numbers of diazepam tabs 5mg*4 at a time, though he has now ceased these.

Discussion centred on the use of fluvoxamine to reduce methadone clearance in rapid metabolisers (with care needed that toxicity doesn't develop). One colleague reported a case of acute opioid withdrawal in a methadone patient who suddenly stopped their fluvoxamine.

The second case was Domel, whose first MMT was at age 26. He was a heroin smoker of 8 years. Though he continued THC heavily, he ceased heroin quickly with methadone dose at 85mg and reduced to 35mg methadone by 1 year into treatment. He transferred to 16 mg buprenorphine, with further reductions to 4mg within 5 months, and to 1.2mg by 10 months. However further reductions were limited by restless and cramped legs when his dose was late, feeling nauseous in the morning before dose, unable to cope if he missed a day's dose.

He reached 0.2 mg/day by 16 months, and 0.1mg (using "Temgesic" tablets) by 24 months into BMT. Despite the cost and inconvenience of continuing treatment, he was not prepared to jump off buprenorphine. At his physician's insistence he finally ceased buprenorphine a year later with assistance of clonidine, paracetamol, ibuprofen, leg and back stretches, and mirtazepine to assist with sleep. He remains opioid abstinent 12 months later.

Discussion centred on the possibility that Domel's symptoms were psychological (which neither he nor his physician believed), the difficulty of low-end reductions, and the unavailability of buprenorphine/naloxone in tablets less than 2mg buprenorphine.

Selected references

Breen CL, Harris SJ, Lintzeris N, Mattick RP, Hawken L, Bell J, Ritter AJ, Lenné
M, Mendoza E. Cessation of methadone maintenance treatment using buprenorphine: transfer from methadone to buprenorphine and subsequent buprenorphine reductions. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2003 Jul 20;71(1):49-55.

Byrne A. Nine-year follow-up of 86 consecutive patients treated with methadone in general practice, Sydney, Australia. Drug Alcohol Rev 2000;19:153 - 8.

Gossop M, Bradley B, Phillips GT. An investigation of withdrawal symptoms shown by opiate addicts during and subsequent to a 21-day in-patient methadone detoxification procedure. Addict Behav. 1987;12(1):1-6.

Gossop M, Griffiths P, Bradley B, Strang J. Opiate withdrawal symptoms in response to 10-day and 21-day methadone withdrawal programmes. Br J Psychiatry. 1989 Mar;154:360-3.

Gowing L, Ali R, White JM. Buprenorphine for the management of opioid withdrawal. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009 Jul 8;(3):CD002025. ..... "Buprenorphine may offer some advantages over methadone, at least in inpatient settings, in terms of quicker resolution of withdrawal symptoms and possibly slightly higher rates of completion of withdrawal."

Hallinan R, Ray J, Byrne A, Agho K, Attia J. Therapeutic thresholds in methadone maintenance treatment: a receiver operating characteristic analysis. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2006 Feb 1;81(2):129-36.

Kornor H, Waal H. From opioid maintenance to abstinence: a literature review. Drug Alcohol Rev. 2005 May;24(3):267-74.

Lenné M, Lintzeris N, Breen C, Harris S, Hawken L, Mattick R, Ritter A. Withdrawal from methadone maintenance treatment: prognosis and participant
perspectives. Aust N Z J Public Health. 2001 Apr;25(2):121-5.

Senay EC, Dorus W, Goldberg F, Thornton W. Withdrawal from methadone maintenance. Rate of withdrawal and expectation. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1977 Mar;34(3):361-7.

Strang J, Gossop M. Comparison of linear versus inverse exponential methadone reduction curves in the detoxification of opiate addicts. Addict Behav. 1990;15(6):541-7.

Winstock AR, Lintzeris N, Lea T. "Should I stay or should I go?" Coming off methadone and buprenorphine treatment. Int J Drug Policy. 2010 Oct 16. [Epub ahead of print]



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