Opioid overuse: Australia needs national strategy

Wednesday, 04 August, 2021

Opioid overuse: Australia needs national strategy

An editorial published by the Medical Journal of Australia flags that, despite an 11-fold increase in the number of patients prescribed strong opioids over the past three decades, Australia has no comprehensive, coordinated approach to overdose prevention by national and state governments and professional groups.

Professor Adrian Dunlop, Director of Drug and Alcohol Clinical Services at the Hunter New England Local Health District, and colleagues wrote that “the marked increase in the total number of patients prescribed opioids is driving an increase in the number of opioid-related deaths”.

“There has been no comprehensive and coordinated approach to overdose prevention by national and state governments and professional groups.”

Highlighting the fundamental importance of providing safe and effective treatment for patients with chronic pain, the authors expressed concern that the harms associated with non-medical opioid use could increase in Australia.

“Opioid medications are only one approach, but they are overused because of limited access to multidisciplinary services incorporating evidence-based interventions, including psychological and physical therapies.”

Dunlop and colleagues concluded that several approaches were needed, preferably coordinated at the national level.

“We need a combination of strategies, including improving the uptake of take-home naloxone, real-time prescription monitoring, regulatory changes, better access to specialist multidisciplinary services, and education for health professionals and the general public,” they said.

“Importantly, these strategies should be coordinated within a national overdose avoidance strategy.

“Our health system is struggling to adequately respond to the increasing number of patients with complex chronic pain together with mental health and addiction conditions.

“Relying on GPs without adequate support from specialist services contributes to excessive use of interventions that can be delivered in short general practice consultations: driving a marked increase in opioid prescribing and the consequent harms.”

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Antonio Rodriguez

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