Pharmaceutical Services

The role of the Pharmaceutical Services section of the Health Protection Service is to ensure the safe supply of medicines, poisons and therapeutic goods to the ACT community.

The section is responsible for conducting a range of regulatory activities for ensuring that medicines and/or poisons are prescribed, stored and supplied in accordance with local legislation. The section is also responsible for regulating community pharmacy ownership and premises in the ACT.

Pharmaceutical Services is also responsible for distributing information across the ACT community about medicine and therapeutic goods recalls, to ensure that the public is protected from any harm from the use of sub-standard or unsafe products.

Latest developments

Access to over-the-counter medicines containing codeine

From 1 February 2018, over‑the‑counter medicines containing codeine (such as some pain and cold and flu medicines) will be available by prescription only.

This change is the result of an extensive review and consultation undertaken by the Commonwealth Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) through the national medicines scheduling process.

The ACT will be implementing the national scheduling decision in full, which will make codeine a prescription-only medicine in the ACT.

The national codeine changes were made in interest of protecting the community from harms associated with its use. Whilst low dose codeine has been used widely in the community for pain symptoms, the growing evidence of harms arising from over‑the‑counter codeine use and misuse are compelling and are considered to greatly outweigh any benefit to consumers. Other over‑the‑counter medicines available that do not contain codeine are considered more safe and effective.

Further information for patients, health professionals and industry is available on the codeine information hub published by the TGA.

Medicinal Cannabis in the ACT

A new category, known as Category 6 – Medicinal Cannabis, has been approved in the ACT Controlled Medicines Prescribing Standards to allow timelier processing of medicinal cannabis applications.

In accordance with Category 6 – Medicinal Cannabis a prescriber may apply to the Chief Health Officer for approval to prescribe medicinal cannabis within certain criteria for the following indications:

  • Spasticity in multiple sclerosis.
  • Nausea and vomiting related to cancer chemotherapy.
  • Pain and/or anxiety in patients with active malignancy of a life limiting disease where (in either case) the prognosis might reasonably be expected to be 12 months or less.
  • Refractory paediatric epilepsy.

For more information about medicinal cannabis, please visit the Medicinal Cannabis webpage.

On 21 November 2017, ACT Health will be holding an information session on medicinal cannabis for all prescribers and pharmacists in collaboration with Capital Health Network and the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia, ACT Branch.

To register for this event please visit the Capital Health Network  or Pharmaceutical Society of Australia  webpage.

Storage of Dispensed Prescriptions Offsite

Under the section 120 (h) of the Medicines, Poisons and Therapeutic Goods Regulation 2008, community pharmacies are required to keep dispensed prescriptions at the pharmacy for 2 years from the date of dispensing. 

Community pharmacies wishing to store dispensed prescriptions outside pharmacy premises may apply to the Chief Health Officer by completing an Application to Store Dispensed Prescriptions Offsite.

Community pharmacies will need to ensure the prescriptions are stored in a way that protects them from loss (including damage), interference or misuse in accordance with the privacy principles 4.1, 4.2 and 4.3 of Health Records (Privacy and Access) Act 1997.

Updates to the Controlled Medicine Prescribing Standards for treating chronic non-cancer pain

In September 2017, ACT Health made improvements to the Controlled Medicines Prescribing Standards (Prescribing Standards) in response to prescriber feedback. These changes come following the anniversary of the introduction of the Category approvals system and the Prescribing Standards in September 2016.

The changes allow prescribers to apply to the Chief Health Officer to prescribe opioids exceeding 100mg morphine equivalence per day (MEqD) for chronic pain under a Category 1 approval without specialist support for:

  • In-patients of residential care facilities for doses up to 300mg MEqD where it is not practical for the patient to obtain specialist review
  • Patients who are experiencing acute on chronic exacerbation(s) of pain 
  • Patients who have a comprehensive pain management plan in place and where the plan proposes to reduce the patient’s use of opioids to below 100mg MEqD.  

These improvements to the Prescribing Standards have been made in consultation with the Medicines Advisory Committee to ensure they are clinically appropriate.  

For more information about Prescribing Standards, please visit the Controlled Medicines page.

Expansion of the Pharmacist Vaccination Program

On 22 June 2016 the ACT Pharmacist Vaccination Program was expanded to allow pharmacists to administer the whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine to patients without a prescription. This means that adults aged over 18 years can now be vaccinated against the flu and whooping cough from their local pharmacist.   

Not all community pharmacies offer vaccination services. Consumers are encouraged to ask their local pharmacy about whether they provide vaccination services and vaccination costs.

All pharmacists must undertake additional training before they vaccinate people against the flu or whooping cough. The ACT Pharmacist Vaccination Standards set out the rules and requirements for pharmacists to administer vaccines. 

For more information about pharmacist vaccinations, please visit the Pharmacist Vaccinations webpage. 

Amendments to Controlled Medicines

In 2016, ACT Health developed amendments to the Medicines, Poisons and Therapeutic Goods Regulation 2008 to improve the regulatory framework and reduce the burden placed on doctors, pharmacists and patients in the supply of controlled medicines.

As outlined in the Controlled Medicines Prescribing Standards, prescribers are able seek approval to prescribe a therapeutic class of controlled medicine(s) for a patient through a category approval system, as determined by the Chief Health Officer (CHO) or they can apply for approval for each drug, form and strength.

More information

Controlled Medicines

Pharmacy Topics