New opioid prescription guide addresses growing addiction

Friday, 08 February, 2019

New opioid prescription guide addresses growing addiction

A new opioid prescription guide for medical practitioners is seeking to curb the growing addiction to opioids in Australia.

In the US, an estimated 1.7 million people suffer from disorders from prescribed opioids each year. While Australia hasn’t reached the devastation experienced in the US, double the number of Australians are dying from pharmaceutical opioid overdose than from heroin overdose. Many doctors are becoming increasingly concerned about their patients’ pharmaceutical opioid use and are seeking ways to reduce it.

To assist them in this process, clear guidance is being provided in a new publication Responding To Pharmaceutical Opioid-Related Problems: A Resource for Prescribers, launched by the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction (NCETA) at Flinders University.

Australia has been experiencing an upward trajectory in opioid use in recent years, more than doubling among Australians aged 35 to 44 since 2007. As a result, from February 2018, medicines containing low-dose codeine (most importantly compound analgesics) were no longer available from pharmacies in Australia without a prescription.

Between 2001 and 2012, rates of fentanyl, oxycodone and methadone deaths in Australia all increased significantly, by an average annual rate of approximately 40%, 16% and 3% respectively.

Much of the increase in opioid use has been for persistent non-cancer pain (PNCP), which has increased despite evidence of a lack of long-term benefits, dose-related risks and poorer outcomes, particularly in terms of function and mental health.

Challenges remain for doctors in terms of best ways to manage a reduction of patients’ use of prescribed opioids and manage chronic non-cancer pain.

“Pharmaceutical opioids are very valuable medicines. However, Australia is currently experiencing a range of harms associated with their use,” said NCETA Director Professor Ann Roche. “We also need strategies to support codeine-dependent individuals who will no longer be able to obtain these medicines without a prescription.

“The new publication provides valuable information about how to achieve this.”

The new guide for prescribers recognises that many people currently taking prescribed opioids may need support to adopt alternative non-pharmacological or non-opioid pain relief regimes. Others may find it difficult to stop their opioid use and may need more complex treatment that will require careful consideration, planning and dialogue.

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