Harm minimization strategies: Opinions of health professionals in rural and remote Australia
Peterson, GM and Northeast, S and Jackson, SL and Fitzmaurice, KD, Harm minimization strategies: Opinions of health professionals in rural and remote Australia, Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics, 32, (5) pp. 497-504. ISSN 0269-4727 (2007) [Refereed Article]
Background and objective: There is some evidence that the problem of illicit drug use (IDU) is increasing in rural areas of Australia. Lack of access to harm minimization (HM) strategies is potentially exacerbated by a shortage of health care facilities and health care professionals in rural areas. This study was conducted to determine barriers to implementation, access to, and success of HM strategies, as seen by health professionals presently working in rural Australia.
Methods: Four hundred rural pharmacists Australia-wide and 425 doctors in rural Victoria and Tasmania were sent postal surveys to assess their opinions on the level of IDU in their area, the types of drugs commonly used, the adequacy of HM strategies and facilities, and the barriers faced by doctors, pharmacists and clients.
Results: The overall response rate was almost 50%. Slightly less than half of surveyed health professionals felt that IDU was increasing in their area, with heroin perceived to be the most prevalent drug used in all States except Tasmania and the Northern Territory. Both methadone prescribers and dispensers believed the methadone maintenance programmes were highly valuable to the community, but not without problems (e.g. risk of overdose). A lack of time or staff was the greatest influence on doctors not participating in the methadone programmes, whereas safety concerns were prominent with pharmacists. The majority of doctors felt HM facilities were inadequate, with needle-syringe exchange being the most frequently nominated HM strategy lacking.
Conclusion: Despite best intentions, there are still problems with HM strategies in these areas. Improving the number and expertise of health professionals in rural areas, and providing adequate support for them, would address some of these problems.