The rising toll of addiction to prescription painkillers
MORE than four people a year are dying from drug overdoses across Campaspe.
And alarmingly most deaths are from prescription painkillers.
According to Australia’s Annual Overdose Report 2018, 18 people died of a drug-related death in the shire from 2012-16, a jump of eight deaths compared to 2002-06.
These include accidental deaths, suicides, homicides and those of undetermined intent.
John Ryan, the chief executive of Penington Institute, which produced the report, said these figures were alarming.
‘‘The number of drug-related deaths in this region of Victoria, including Echuca, Kyabram and Rochester, is heading in the wrong direction and that is really concerning,’’ he said.
‘‘From 2001 to 2016, the drug type claiming the most lives in the area is, unsurprisingly, opioids such as codeine, heroin, oxycodone and fentanyl.’’
There has been a massive 87 per cent increase in prescription opioid deaths from 2008 to 2014 in Australia.
Echuca GP Peter Nesbitt said while the figures were sobering, he was not surprised.
‘‘Heroin used to be the major cause of drug-related overdoses and deaths, but prescription opioids are now a much bigger problem,’’ he said.
‘‘They are much more freely available, because any doctor can write a script.
‘‘If you have a health care card you can get a box of 28 tablets of Oxycontin 80mg or 40mg for about $6.40. This would last for some time and is significantly cheaper and easier to get than heroin.
‘‘Also they can be sold on the street for about $1 per mg, so those who are dealing are making a large profit and they are very freely available.
‘‘Unfortunately there are some doctors who are more willing to use these drugs than others.’’
Dr Nesbitt, who co-runs a pharmacotherapy clinic at the hospital, which manages people with an opioid dependence, said while many patients had used multiple drugs, the abuse of prescription opioids was much more common than heroin.
‘‘I feel strongly that there needs to be considerably more resources spent on prevention and harm reduction. Our pharmacotherapy clinic is poorly resourced but we still have some excellent outcomes,’’ he said.
‘‘The pharmacotherapy clinic structure that we have developed in Echuca is a very good one and one I believe is outstanding for a town of this size. And we have patients coming from Kerang, Cohuna, Elmore, Kyabram and Deniliquin.’’
Dr Nesbitt said there was good evidence the codeine ban would help prevent future overdoses as it was harder to obtain codeine because a script was required.
‘‘Now people have to see a doctor and hopefully be assessed and managed if they need codeine,’’ he said.
Echuca GP and Rural Doctors Association of Victoria president Suzanne Harrison said the codeine ban had been a small step in the right direction as over-the-counter sales had contributed to the rising abuse of prescription drugs.
However, she said many patients were now pressuring, even threatening, doctors for these drugs to be prescribed,
‘‘Most medical staff know that narcotics are not the answer to chronic pain issues,’’ she said.
‘‘We know that physio, exercise etc are of much greater value in returning to function, recognising that complete relief of chronic pain is an unlikely outcome and that narcotics are likely to potentiate pain with long-term use.
‘‘However there is significant difficulty in accessing and funding specialist pain management services and the allied health support necessary to improve outcomes and return of function.
‘‘I also have concerns regarding the reluctance of many patients to engage in this approach, preferring to take a pill rather than time and effort involved in this approach.
‘‘For many of our patients these issues are just the tip of the iceberg of intergenerational trauma and a much more supportive and proactive approach for our very young community members is needed. However this takes a whole of community approach and lots of effort.’’
To offer support go to www.overdoseday.com