Prescription opioids are killing more Australians than heroin

Prescription opioids are killing more Australians than heroin

More Australians are dying from accidental opioid overdoses each year, with prescription painkillers rather than heroin now accounting for two-thirds of the fatalities, latest Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows.

An analysis of finalised ABS data by researchers at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre found 68 per cent of the 668 overdose deaths in 2013 were related to pharmaceutical opioids – a far cry from the heroin epidemic of the 1990s when the majority of opioid deaths were caused by illicit drugs.

The death rate has more than doubled among addicts aged between 35 and 44 since 2007. The death toll is expected to rise.

“We expect further increases once the deaths data for 2014 and 2015 are finalised,” said lead author Amanda Roxburgh.

“We’re seeing a real shift from illicit to pharmaceutical opioids implicated in these deaths, affecting a broader range of people who want to manage their pain.”

Opioids – powerful painkillers that act on the nervous system – were traditionally used by cancer patients in hospitals, but over the past couple of decades, have become mainstream.

In many cases, a person will leave hospital with instructions to take two tablets a day for a couple of weeks. But in a few months, hooked, they could start shovelling up to 90 tablets into their mouths a day.

“There’s good research showing there’s been a four-fold increase in the prescribing of these drugs between 1990 and 2014, particularly for Oxycontin, Tramadol and Fentanyl,”​ said Ms Roxburgh.

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Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

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