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Training GPs to help people tackle alcohol and other drug use

Photo: Training GPs to help people tackle alcohol and other drug use
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is boosting the skills of GPs so that they can better address alcohol and other drug use in their communities.

Under the $7.9 million initiative funded by the Federal Government, the RACGP will develop and deliver the Alcohol and Other Drugs GP Education Program, which is tailored to meet the needs of GPs in all corners of Australia.

The program, which can be adapted to local circumstances, will encourage participation from rural and remote GPs and assist doctors in treating at-risk groups including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and LGBTQI individuals.

The RACGP will nearly double the number of spaces available so that as many GPs as possible across the country can benefit.

RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon said that the program was established by drawing on the knowledge of a wide range of experts.
“We consulted with GPs, RACGP faculties as well as the Royal Australian College of Physicians’ Addiction Medicine Chapter, leading academics, healthcare education and training providers and drug and alcohol service providers.

“That feedback ensures we are responsive to the education needs of GPs nation-wide and the different treatment pathways in each state and territory.”

The RACGP President said that the new program would provide practical help for GPs.

“This is a really exciting opportunity that will assist GPs on the frontline help people address their substance use problems without fear of stigma or shame.

“People use alcohol and other drugs for a wide variety of reasons and most Australians will not become alcohol or drug dependent.

“But for some their alcohol or drug use is causing harm. For example, the number of Australians who are misusing their prescribed pain medication is on the rise.

“When a patient needs help we must ensure GPs are equipped with the skills to help them get on the right path.

“Doctors already have access to a range of evidence-based resources. However, the gap we have identified is in providing practical ways that GPs can support patients who find it difficult to talk about their alcohol intake, misuse of prescribed medications or other drug use.”

The program will help GPs:

  • talk to their patients about alcohol and other drug use
     
  • work collaboratively with colleagues to develop a whole-of-practice approach to the prescribing of pharmaceuticals to treat pain, insomnia and anxiety
     
  • implement best practice approaches to safely and effectively support patients presenting with alcohol and other drug use use problems to minimise harm and improve health and wellbeing.

The RACGP will collaborate closely with PHNs, Local Health Districts and other alcohol and other drug treatment service providers to ensure local treatment pathways are promoted.

There will also be advanced skills training available for GPs who will be required to take on a leadership role and share what they have learnt with their practice colleagues.

Chair of the RACGP Addiction Medicine network Dr Hester Wilson said that the program will provide tailored training for doctors working in different communities and settings.

“One pathway will feature face-to-face education sessions for metropolitan and some regional areas featuring four to five hour workshops.

“However, there will also be self-directed learning options available for GPs to complete online at their own place.

“We certainly haven’t forgotten about rural and remote GPs. Another pathway will use video conferencing software to deliver online training sessions so that doctors living outside of our cities don’t miss out on this great learning opportunity.

“Training GPs in the bush is essential because residents in remote regions of Australia are particularly at risk for drug and alcohol misuse. Doctors working in these areas often isolated and treating patients with complex morbidities.

“We must ensure they are equipped with the training they need to help their patients. They are often working without real-time support from colleagues or experienced allied health professionals.”

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