Lives will be saved by a new national system to instantly alert doctors and chemists when addicts stock up on prescription pain drugs, the federal health minister believes.
Greg Hunt on Friday announced $16 million to roll out the real-time prescription monitoring system over the next 18 months, amid calls for action by professional medical bodies and families who have lost loved ones to overdoses.
Misuse of prescription drugs was a growing trend resulting in 600 deaths each year and more needed to be done, he said.
"This system will save lives and protect the community," Mr Hunt said.
"This is something of absolute national importance."
Medicines that will be monitored include strong painkillers like morphine, oxycodone, dexamphetamine and alprazolam.
Real-time reporting would identify patients at risk of harm from drug dependency as well as those selling the medicines to others or using it to make other illegal drugs, the minister said.
The Victorian government also announced on Friday it would roll-out a state-wide real-time monitoring system for prescription drugs.
The Pharmacy Guild welcomed the announcement, having long called for real-time monitoring, which involves sales records being entered on a national database.
"For too long, doctors and pharmacists have been expected to work at the front line tackling the prescription drug dependence issue without the full knowledge that real-time recording can provide," president George Tambassis said.
"The technology exists, it's great that there is now real political momentum to see it implemented."
The Guild eventually wants the new system expanded to monitor all medicines subject to overuse and abuse, including codeine-containing medicines like Nurofen Plus.
Medicines containing codeine, including painkillers and cold and flu tablets, can still be bought over-the-counter but will become prescription-only from February 2018 following a decision by the medicines regulator.
The Guild says 71 per cent of pharmacists already voluntarily conduct real-time monitoring on over-the-counter medicines containing codeine.
Royal Australian College of GPs president Bastian Seidel said real-time monitoring was already in place in Tasmania and had become a vital tool, urging other states to follow suit.
"GPs and pharmacists are on the front line of this crisis and we desperately need a real-time tool to help us identify and support patients experiencing addiction to prescription drugs," he said.