Key messages

  • Medical practitioners are not authorised to prescribe a Schedule 4 or Schedule 8 medicine merely because a person requests a prescription.

  • Schedule 8 and Schedule 4 medicines are subject to strict legislative controls.
  • Medical practitioners should ensure that they understand the system of permits and notifications for Schedule 8 medicines.

Different schedules and legal requirements

Examples of Schedule 4 and Schedule 8 medicines can be found in the section titled ‘Scheduled Medicines’. A full list of Schedule 4 and Schedule 8 poisons can be found in the Poisons Standard.

Schedule 8 medicines

Schedule 8 medicines have the strictest legislative controls of commonly available medicines. A permit might be required to prescribe Schedule 8 medicines.

Methadone (Physeptone®), nabiximols (Sativex®), amphetamine, dexamphetamine, lisdexamfetamine, methylamphetamine and methylphenidate (Ritalin®) are Special Schedule 8 medicines that most medical practitioners must not prescribe without first obtaining a permit.

Schedule 4 medicines

Schedule 4 medicines include other medicines for which prescriptions are usually required.

Drugs of dependence

The term ‘drugs of dependence’ is used to describe Schedule 8 medicines plus some Schedule 4 and Schedule 3 medicines that are subject to misuse and trafficking. For this reason there are stricter controls around their availability. 

The Schedule 4 medicines in this category include all benzodiazepines that are not in Schedule 8, phentermine (Duromine®), pseudoephedrine, testosterone and other anabolic steroids.

Schedule 4 medicines with special restrictions

Retinoids (acitretin, bexarotene and etretinate plus isotretinoin and tretinoin for oral use), ovulatory stimulants (clomiphene, cyclofenil), prostaglandins (dinoprost, dinoprostone) plus thalidomide and thalidomide-like substances (lenalidomide, pomalidomide) are Schedule 4 medicines with which treatment may only be initiated by a medical practitioner with the appropriate qualifications and expertise and who holds a warrant to prescribe the medicine, in which case each prescription must be endorsed with that practitioner’s warrant number.

A medical practitioner who does not hold the appropriate warrant, may only prescribe one of these medicines when acting in accordance with the direction of the warrant holder who usually treats the patient, in which case the prescription must be endorsed with the warrant holder’s name and warrant number.

Over-the-counter medicines (Schedule 2 and 3 medicines)

Schedule 2 and 3 medicines must only be supplied (in an open shop) by pharmacists. Medical practitioners may use or supply Schedule 2 and 3 medicines in a similar manner to Schedule 4 medicines.

Victorian legislation is not to be confused with the PBS

The Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 and Regulations govern the lawfulness of prescribing and supplying medicines containing scheduled medicines in Victoria. 

The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) is operated by Medicare Australia to subsidise the cost of listed medicines, including Authority Prescriptions for increased quantities of PBS listed medicines. Whether a medicine is prescribed under the PBS, on a PBS Authority Prescription, subsidised by another agency (e.g. WorkCover) or prescribed on a ‘private’ prescription has no bearing on whether it is lawful to prescribe or supply the medicine. Failure to comply with the legislation renders a person liable to prosecution.

Note: Medical practitioners are not obliged to prescribe the maximum PBS quantity of a medicine, especially when a smaller quantity can address an immediate need whilst minimising the potential risks associated with drug-seeking behaviour.

Writing prescriptions

Medical practitioners must not prescribe a Schedule 4 or Schedule 8 medicine merely because a person requests a prescription or because another prescriber has done so.

Before prescribing, a medical practitioner must take all reasonable steps to ensure a therapeutic need exists. Issuing a prescription, merely because another prescriber has done so, is unlikely to satisfy this requirement.

Before prescribing a drug of dependence, a medical practitioner must also take all reasonable steps to confirm the identity of the patient.

Medical practitioners who issue prescriptions are personally responsible for ensuring that the prescribing is safe, appropriate and lawful. They should ensure they are aware of the active ingredient/s and effects of prescribed medicines - especially when issuing a prescription for an unfamiliar medicine.

Examples of unlawful prescribing

Medical practitioners must not prescribe any Schedule 4 or Schedule 8 medicines for the purpose of self-administration (regardless of whether the treatment was initiated by another practitioner).

A medical practitioner must not prescribe a Schedule 4 or Schedule 8 medicine other than for the medical treatment of a patient under his/her care. Accordingly, it is not lawful to prescribe:

  • testosterone or other anabolic steroids for bodybuilding purposes or to enhance sporting performance
  • stimulants merely to enhance or prolong wakefulness in long distance drivers 
  • drugs of dependence merely to support the drug dependency of a person
  • for persons who are not under the practitioner’s care, e.g. a person who has not consulted the medical practitioner and whose therapeutic need and/or identity cannot be confirmed or established.

Prescriptions for Schedule 4 and Schedule 8 medicines must:

  • contain details of the prescriber (including name, address and contact phone number)
  • contain the patient’s name and address (and date of birth on prescriptions for medicines monitored by SafeScript) 
  • identify the medicine unambiguously
  • show the quantity and number of repeats (in words and figures and/or NIL repeats for Schedule 8 medicines)
  • be signed and dated by the prescriber
  • contain precise directions for use (except where complex directions are provided separately in writing - or if administration is to be carried out by a registered health practitioner) or the maximum daily dosage if a variable dosage is specified.

Computer-generated prescriptions must:

  • comply with the published criteria for computer-generated prescriptions 
  • not be manually amended; if an error is made, the prescription must be destroyed and reprinted
  • contain specified elements in the prescriber’s handwriting for Schedule 8 and Schedule 4 drugs of dependence.

Permits and notifications for Schedule 8 medicines

The legislation aims to minimise concurrent prescribing of Schedule 8 medicines by requiring principal prescribers to obtain treatment permits and/or submit notifications in relation to specific patients.

Requirements for Schedule 8 treatment permits and notifications can vary according to the circumstances of the patient or the qualifications of the medical practitioner. Medical practitioners are strongly advised to familiarise themselves with requirements for Schedule 8 treatment permits before prescribing a Schedule 8 medicine.

Prescribing opioid-replacement therapy (ORT)

Most medical practitioners wishing to prescribe methadone, buprenorphine (Subutex®) or buprenorphine in combination with naloxone (Suboxone®) to treat opioid-dependent patients, are required to undertake relevant training and assessment to gain approval from the department as ORT prescribers.

However, in recognition of the greater safety associated with the use of Suboxone® film, any medical practitioner may prescribe Suboxone® for up to 5 patients without undergoing the training or assessment to become an approved ORT prescriber.

Medical practitioners who are not approved ORT prescribers should seek advice from an approved prescriber (preferably in the same practice or through the Drug and Alcohol Clinical Advisory Service (DACAS) before prescribing to a patient. Brief guides, in document and video format, are also available on the DPR website.

Schedule 8 permits: Requirements and exceptions

The introduction of SafeScript has added to the complexity of Schedule 8 permit requirements due to the increased number of exceptions to those requirements.

To assist medical practitioners in determining whether (and when) they need to obtain a Schedule 8 treatment permit, the Department has prepared a document that takes the practitioner through a sequence of criteria, in the following order, with exceptions for prescribers who have reviewed SafeScript inserted where appropriate.

  • General exceptions
  • Treating a drug-dependent person
  • Specific exceptions – relating to the treatment of a patient and/or the circumstances or qualifications of the prescriber
  • Requirements for Special Schedule 8 poisons
  • General requirements

Prescribers are strongly encouraged to print (or download) and retain the document, Schedule 8 treatment permits, to assist them to navigate the complexities of the permit system.

Key contacts

For information about suspected drug-seeking patients, contact Medicare Australia’s Prescription Shopper Information Service.

To obtain clinical advice from specialist consultants, registered health practitioners (only) may phone the DACAS at any time.

For 24-hour confidential drug and alcohol counselling and advice about available treatment facilities, patients, family or health practitioners may phone DirectLine.

For information relating to prescribing under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), refer to the Medicare Australia website or contact Medicare Australia.