Opi­oids killing three Aus­tralians ev­ery day

The Australian - - THE NATION - SEAN PARNELL HEALTH EDI­TOR

Deaths in­volv­ing pre­scrip­tion painkillers and il­licit opi­oids are on the rise — killing three Aus­tralians, on av­er­age, ev­ery day — but are yet to reach the toll of the end of last cen­tury.

Ac­cord­ing to the Aus­tralian In­sti­tute of Health and Wel­fare, more than one in 10 peo­ple has used il­le­gal opi­oids or mis­used pre­scrip­tion drugs.

This abuse of painkillers most re­cently prompted a ban on over-the-counter codeine and a pro­posed na­tional strat­egy to bet­ter man­age painful con­di­tions and help pre­vent ad­dic­tion.

The AIHW re­port, re­leased to­day, shows that the num­ber of opi­oid-re­lated deaths in 2016, the most re­cent year for which data was avail­able, hit 1119.

That was the high­est death toll since a peak of 1245 in 1999.

“Ev­ery day in Aus­tralia, there are nearly 150 hos­pi­tal­i­sa­tions and 14 pre­sen­ta­tions to emer- gency de­part­ments in­volv­ing opi­oid harm, and three peo­ple die from drug-in­duced deaths in­volv­ing opi­oid use,” said AIHW spokes­woman Lynelle Moon.

“The num­ber of deaths in­volv­ing opi­oids has nearly dou­bled in the decade to 2016, from 591 to 1119. Put an­other way, this is a rise from about three deaths in­volv­ing opi­oids in ev­ery 100,000 peo­ple to about five.”

The re­port shows opi­oidrelated deaths are more likely to be be­cause of phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal drugs than il­licit sub­stances. That is the same for hos­pi­tal­i­sa­tions, which in­creased 25 per cent over the decade.

In 2016-17, 15.4 mil­lion opi­oid pre­scrip­tions were dis­pensed un­der the Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal Ben­e­fits Scheme to 3.1 mil­lion peo­ple. Oxy­codone — used for mod­er­ate and se­vere pain, and some­times re­ferred to as “Hill­billy Heroin” — was the most com­monly dis­pensed pre­scrip­tion opi­oid.

Pre­scrip­tion drugs are some­times sold on the black mar­ket.

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