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Australia - Prescriptions and Medications

Pharmacies offer a wider range of services than simply dispensing medications. A pharmacist is able to give some basic advice on symptoms and advise on which over the counter medication can help. There are many medications in Australia which can only be prescribed by a doctor but you may also find that a medicine that you needed a prescription for in your home country is available over the counter when you arrive in Australia.

Larger urban areas have pharmacies that have long opening hours, so you can be sure of getting a prescription filled in the evenings or at weekends, while some cities have 24 hour pharmacies. If you are living in a more rural area then opening hours will be much more limited. There may be times when you need medication urgently and the pharmacy is not open. In this case you can call your doctor or contact the local police station for help.

In recent years the pharmaceutical services which are being offered in rural areas have expanded a great deal. This ensures that subsidised medications are available no matter which part of the country you are in.

Under the Medicare system as part of a scheme known as ‘Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme’, almost 2000 medications are subsidised. These are the medications which are considered to be ‘necessary and life-saving’. Most people who are obtaining a prescription will qualify for this subsidy. You can obtain a PBS medication if you are an Australian resident or if you are visiting from a country that has a healthcare agreement with Australia and you may be asked to prove that you are an Australian resident or produce your passport as proof of nationality. If you cannot prove that you are eligible you will need to pay in full for the medications. If you do find yourself in this situation you can obtain a refund by sending the receipt and your proof of eligibility to the Medicare department.

Australia has a system of scheduling medications which give greater control over their use and dispensing. These schedules are overseen by the National Drugs and Poisons Schedule Committee (NDPSC). Schedule 2 is for pharmacy medications and these are items which should only be found at the pharmacy. Anything which is considered to need the advice of a pharmacist before being administered will come under this category, but this can include basic medications such as headache tablets and cough mixture.

Schedule 3 is a medication that must be supplied by a pharmacist. You may not need to have a prescription for this type of medication but you should not take it without the advice of a doctor or pharmacist and you will not be able to find this type of medication elsewhere. Schedule 4 is for medication which is only available on prescription. Schedule 5 is for controlled substances. This category includes any type of substance that has controls for manufacture, distribution or possession. Any drug that is for addiction or a substance that is considered to be a poison will come into this category.

Pharmacies are often part of a chain, particularly in urban areas. In Perth there is a chain known as Friendlies, while other chains exists in other states, such as Priceline Pharmacy, National Pharmacies and Blooms the Chemist. Many pharmacies are also independently owned by the pharmacists that run them. In order to recognise a pharmacy you need to look for the symbol. The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia uses a version of the ‘Bowl of Hygeia’ which is a cup resembling a chalice with two snakes. Most versions of this symbol have only one.

If you need to bring medications into the country with you then you are permitted to bring a supply that will last you for four weeks. Advice should be sought from your doctor prior to travelling and you should ensure that you know the generic name for any medication that you need to take, as brand names often alter in different countries. Availability of your medication should not be a problem as many that are available in the UK and the US are also available in Australia, but checking in advance will ensure that you are prepared for any eventuality.

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