Safety and first aid

Drugs of dependence

What are drugs of dependence?

Drugs of dependence are prescription medicines that have a recognised therapeutic need but also a higher potential for misuse, abuse and dependence. Many of these are Schedule 8 medicines.

These medicines have important therapeutic uses such as:

  • treatment of severe pain
  • management of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The prescribing, storage and dispensing of Schedule 8 medicines is subject to a greater level of control than any other prescription-only medicines.

Some of the more commonly prescribed Schedule 8 medicines include:

  • opioids such as:
    • morphine
    • oxycodone
    • fentanyl
    • buprenorphine
    • methadone
    • pethidine
    • flunitrazepam
  • stimulants such as:
    • dexamphetamine
    • methylphenidate.

What do I need to know about Schedule 8 medicine prescriptions?

A prescription is written by your doctor for the use of Schedule 8 medicines for the treatment of your medical condition.

Your doctor is only able to prescribe one Schedule 8 medicine per prescription. This prescription is valid for only 6 months.

Your doctor must ensure that the prescription is a valid Schedule 8 prescription and meets the appropriate legislative requirements. These requirements are met by providing:

  • your date of birth
  • specific instructions for use
  • the interval between dispensing repeat prescriptions.

Your pharmacist will ensure all legislative requirements have been met when you have your Schedule 8 prescription filled. This may mean a slightly longer waiting time when collecting your prescriptions.

If your doctor has requested a repeat of your Schedule 8 medicine, the repeat interval will be specified. This determines when you can collect your next medication. 

Your pharmacist cannot dispense a Schedule 8 repeat prescription earlier than the specified date.

All prescription repeats of Schedule 8 medicines must be kept at the same pharmacy that dispensed the original prescription.

Why has my doctor asked me to see a pain specialist?

Strong pain relievers, also known as opioid Schedule 8 medicines, play an important role in the management of pain.

To make sure you achieve the best health outcomes, while minimising adverse effects, a review from an appropriate specialist is often required.

The Department of Health has produced a prescribing code for Schedule 8 medicines. This means doctors or other health professionals prescribing Schedule 8 medicines will need to refer a patient to an appropriate specialist when a patient’s treatment with opioids meets any of the high risk criteria.

Why can’t my doctor prescribe for me?

Doctors have to follow the rules on prescribing. Sometimes they have to submit an application to prescribe, and receive an authorisation, before they can commence or continue prescribing.

The Department of Health may also require additional information from doctors prescribing Schedule 8 medicines before they give an authorisation. This information can include:

  • consultant reports
  • urine drug screens
  • reports from drug treatment providers.

The doctor can phone the Department of Health to discuss the progress of any application. This may include finding out if any additional information is required before the application can be processed.

The Department will work with the doctor to get the best result as quickly as possible.

You can talk to your doctor to find out the progress of an application.

Why have I been asked to sign an opioid treatment contract?

Your doctor is required to obtain authorisation from the Department to prescribe strong pain medicines (opioid Schedule 8 medicines).

You are asked to sign an opioid treatment contract to make sure you understand what is expected from you while you take these medicines.

It is your responsibility to make sure the medicines are used appropriately and according to the authorisation obtained by your doctor.

An opioid treatment contract is an informed agreement between you and your doctor. You will be asked to only obtain prescriptions for the S8 medicines from your doctor and to keep the dosages prescribed, to avoid oversupply.

See Treatment Contract for the use of a Schedule 8 medicine (Word 515 KB) (external site) for an example.

Your doctor may use their own form of a treatment contract.

What is the Register of Notified Drug Addicts?

You can be added to the Register of Notified Drug Addicts in two ways.

  1. A medical practitioner is required to notify the Department of Health if they become aware or suspect that you are addicted to drugs.
  2. To receive treatment for drug dependence under the Community Program for Opioid Pharmacotherapy (CPOP) you need to sign a statement. This statement acknowledges you are aware that your name will be included on the Register.

How will I be affected by having my name on the register?

The Register of Notified Drug Addicts is for your medical treatment only.

If you require treatment with a Schedule 8 medicine (strong pain medicine) then your doctor is required to make an application to the Department of Health before prescribing for you.

Your information is only provided to health professionals who are involved in your treatment.

Information from the Register is not available to your employer, police or other agencies.

How can I get my name off the register?

The Drugs of Addiction Notification Regulations 1980 (external site) describes how a name may be removed from the Register. The criteria are:

  • the person referred to in the register has died
  • the entry was, for any reason, false or incorrect
  • after the person has been drug-free for 2 years, the Director, Alcohol and Drug Authority has advised that the person referred to in the register has ceased to use drugs
  • for a period of at least 5 years, the person referred to in the register has no contact with the Department, either directly or indirectly in relation to their use of drugs of addiction.

You can apply to remove your name from the register. The request needs to be made in writing by yourself, or your doctor, and addressed to:

Executive Director
Public Health
PO Box 8172
Perth Business Centre 6849.

Your request must be accompanied with 100 points of certified identification. Please contact the Department of Health on 9222 4424 for further advice.

Who should I talk to about my overuse of pain medication?

Talk to your doctor or contact the Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) (external site) on 9442 5000 or toll free on 1800 198 024. 

Who should I talk to about my child’s dependency issues?

The Parent Drug Information Service (PDIS) (external site) is a 24 hour, confidential telephone service for parents of children with substance dependency issues. You can talk to the on 9442 5050 or toll free on 1800 653 203.

What should I do if I see somebody selling drugs/medicines?

If you see somebody selling drugs/medicine on the street, the police should be notified on 131 444.

You can report the illegal sale of prescription medicines to the Pharmaceutical Services Branch at the WA Department of Health on 9222 4424.

If the medical practice from where the prescription was written is known, they should also be contacted.


Acknowledgements

Medicines and Poisons Regulation Branch


This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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