Controlled drugs

Controlled drugs include medicines available on prescription from a health professional. Prescribing of controlled drugs is more tightly controlled than prescribing of other medicines, reflecting the need to restrict access to, and minimise the misuse of, controlled drugs.

The classes of controlled drugs and their restrictions

This information is provided in full in the schedules of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, accessible via the New Zealand legislation website.

Maximum period of supply for controlled drug prescriptions

The Misuse of Drug Regulations 1977 specify the restrictions on controlled drug prescribing. As at 1 July 2014 the restrictions by professional group are as follows.

Medical practitioners

The maximum period of supply is no greater than a quantity sufficient for use for a period of:

  • 1 month for Class A & Class B controlled drugs
  • 3 months for Class C controlled drugs (dispensed at 1-monthly intervals unless otherwise specified by the prescriber).

Nurse practitioners

The maximum period of supply is no greater than a quantity sufficient for use for a period of:

  • 1 month for Class A & Class B controlled drugs
  • 3 months for Class C controlled drugs (dispensed at 1-monthly intervals unless otherwise specified by prescriber).

Dentists

The maximum period of supply is no greater than a quantity sufficient for use for a period of 7 days.

Midwives

Midwives may only prescribe from the list of controlled drugs in Schedule 1C of the Regulations (pethidine, morphine or fentanyl).

The maximum period of supply is no greater than a quantity sufficient for use for a period of 1 month.

Designated prescriber nurse

Designated prescriber nurses may only prescribe from the list of controlled drugs in Schedule 1A of the Regulations, and only in an emergency.

The maximum period of supply is no greater than a quantity sufficient for use for a period of 3 days.

Designated prescriber pharmacist

Designated prescriber pharmacists may only prescribe from the list of controlled drugs in Schedule 1B of the Regulations.

The maximum period of supply is no greater than a quantity sufficient for use for a period of 3 days.

Prescription requirements for Class A and B and specified Class C drugs

If intended for human use, prescriptions for:

  • Class A and Class B controlled drugs
  • Class C controlled drugs specified by Regulation 29(5) of the Regulations.

must be signed by the prescriber and either be:

  • handwritten on a form approved by the Director-General of Health (currently triplicate controlled drugs prescription form H572)
  • on a form that is electronically generated from an approved system.

Only systems that are robust and secure and which have a data feed to Medicines Control and Sector Services (units within the Ministry of Health with responsibility for monitoring of controlled drug prescribing and payment services) will be given approval to electronically generate prescriptions.

Other requirements relating to prescriptions for controlled drugs

Every prescription for a controlled drug must be signed physically by the prescriber in his or her own handwriting. Details required on each prescription are set out in Regulation 29 and include:

  • the date
  • the name and address of the patient
  • name of the medication
  • the dose and frequency
  • the prescriber’s name and address

Prescriptions for children under 12 years require the age in years and months to be written on the prescription form.

Prescriptions must be dispensed within a certain time

  • Prescriptions for Class A and Class B controlled drugs must be dispensed within 7 days of the prescribing date.
  • Prescriptions for Class C controlled drugs must be dispensed within 6 months of the prescribing date.

Prescription amendments

Amendments to controlled drug prescriptions may only be made by the prescriber, who must sign the changes.

Some controlled drugs have additional restrictions

Ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, methylphenidate and dexamphetamine

These controlled drugs require additional approval for prescribing, in accordance with Regulation 22 of the Regulations. See Restrictions on supply of certain controlled drugs for more information.

Treatment of people dependent on controlled drugs

Only medical practitioners working under a Gazette notice issued under s24 of the Misuse of Drugs Act can issue prescriptions for the treatment of dependency. The Ministry’s Prescribing Controlled Drugs in Addiction Treatment document provides guidance to help addiction treatment services comply with section 24 of the Misuse of Drugs Act.

Section 24 of the Act prohibits prescribing to a person whom the prescriber believes to be dependent on a controlled drug (for example methadone), unless that prescriber is a medical practitioner and:

  • is a gazetted practitioner; or
  • is working in a gazetted agency and authorised by a gazetted prescriber, or is working in a hospital and is authorised by the person in charge under direction of a Medical Officer of Health; or
  • is acting under the written permission of a gazetted or authorised prescriber described above to prescribe for a particular patient.

Prescriptions for methadone may be on quadruplicate H572M forms supplied by the Ministry of Health or Alcohol & Drug (A&D) or clinic prescriptions where an approval to print onto triplicate forms has been provided by the Director-General of Health.

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