The ris­ing toll of ad­dic­tion to pre­scrip­tion painkillers

Campaspe News - - NEWS - By IVY JENSEN

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.over­dose­

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