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Curtin University
John Curtin Day
John Curtin Medallists

Dr George O'Neil (1998)

Finding new ways to improve techniques and equipment in the medical field is an ongoing ambition for Perth obstetrician, Dr George O’Neil. Dr O’Neil’s inventive skills are making an impact in widely different areas of medicine.

The new medical equipment he has designed is simpler, safer, more efficient and cost effective than previous alternatives. It has enabled him to establish a business – Go Medical – to export his inventions to all corners of the world.

He also runs a busy obstetrics practice but is best known for his life-saving work in the treatment of drug addicts, which has seen the 49-year-old doctor face criticism from the medical establishment in his fight to establish the Naltrexone treatment in Western Australia.

Dr O’Neil’s courage in tackling heroin addiction in our community means he continues to be opposed by some colleagues in medical and bureaucratic circles.

His treatment has met with huge success in Perth – over 800 heroin users have been treated by Dr O’Neil, with a 75 per cent success rate.

Involving an addict’s loved ones in the healing process plays a key role in the administration of the treatment. Naltrexone always works, but the addict must come back for continued treatment.

“Most people give it up and this treatment has been sitting on the shelf for 20 years,” Dr O’Neil said.

A breakthrough in the treatment of addicts has been to involve close family and loved ones. This has made a big impact on the success of the program. “Parents are saying to me, ‘I’ve been looking for this type of help for my kid for so long – and it really works.”

Dr O’Neil’s tireless work for others includes designing a better pain management system, eliminating time-consuming processes to ease diarrhoea in sick children of Third World countries and rising to the challenges in his own home where he and his wife care for six children (one autistic).

In acknowledging him for his vision, leadership and community service attributes, the University has awarded the John Curtin Medal to Dr O’Neil in the hope that it will provide an important affirmation to him and his many volunteers that he is making a difference to the lives of many people.

Work undertaken since receiving the John Curtin Medal

Dr O’Neil’s work in the treatment of drug addiction and in more accurate drug delivery has continued to deliver research and service opportunities since 1985.

Since the year he was awarded the John Curtin Medal in 1998, his work has been shared with Curtin’s School of Pharmacy, The University of Western Australia’s School of Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, the Fresh Start Recovery Programme, Go Medical Industries Pty Ltd and the Department of Health in WA, allowing the development of new industries and improved patient care.

Dr O’Neil has been awarded a series of medals including the Australian Medical Association Outstanding Doctor of the Year 1999, WA Citizen of the Year 2000 - awarded by Perth City Council - and Australian Entrepreneur of the Year 2002.

In almost 20 years since the award, 11,500 patients have presented to the Fresh Start Recovery Programme, which Dr O’Neil founded. The drug addiction recovery program has established properties and services to care for patients and their families in Busselton, two locations in Northam, Kewdale, Subiaco, Mt Lawley, Warwick and Alexander Heights.

As a result of research published in more than 100 publications by Professor Gary Hulse and Dr Stuart Reece, who have both worked closely with Dr O’Neil, an increasing number of addiction specialists in Europe, the US and Australia today accept that opioid addicts and benzodiazepine addicts are best treated with opioid blockers with new delivery systems Dr O’Neil developed in Perth, which are useful in the management of amphetamines and alcohol addictions and benzodiazepine addictions, in addition to heroin addiction.

These improvements have been associated with the development of naltrexone implants produced by Go Medical Industries, a company Dr O’Neil developed in Subiaco in 1985.

The new treatments are now attracting interest from the US government, with work currently commencing at Columbia University in New York. The locally made implants are also being used in Europe.