Opioid-related harm increasing in Victoria

Wednesday, 25 September, 2019

Opioid-related harm increasing in Victoria

While pharmaceutical opioids are used for pain relief, the medicines can cause euphoria, dependence and, in the case of overdose, fatal respiratory suppression. Now, data released by the Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC) has revealed that a growing number of Victorians are presenting to emergency departments due to pharmaceutical opioid-related harm.

The latest edition of Hazard, a report published by MUARC’s Victorian Injury Surveillance Unit (VISU), shows that opioid-related emergency department (ED) presentations increased annually by an average of 3.1% during the 10-year period of 2008–09 to 2017–18. The trend was most pronounced among males aged 45–54 years, with an average annual increase of 7.9%.

In the three-year period from 2015–16 to 2017–18, there were 2618 ED presentations relating to opioids, with the most common opioid types being codeine and oxycodone followed by tramadol. More than half of these ED presentations were coded as ‘intentional self-harm’ (51.3%), 26.1% were coded as unintentional and 22.7% were coded as ‘other and undetermined intent’. Intentional self-harm was highest among 15- to 19-year-old females (71.4%), who also represented the largest group for overall opioid-related ED presentations.

There were also 3946 hospital admissions during the same period, an average of 1315 per year. Females (61.9%) were more likely than males (38.1%) to be admitted to hospital for opioid-related poisoning. The majority of these admissions were coded as intentional self-harm (60.5%), 27.3% were coded as unintentional poisoning and a smaller proportion were coded as poisoning of undetermined intent (12.2%).

In the two-year period for which costs were available (2015–16 and 2016–17), the direct costs for pharmaceutical opioid-related hospital admissions totalled $16.35 million.

Several recommendations are made for the prevention of opioid harm. The report suggests the increased availability of overdose ‘reversal’ drug naloxone may help reduce fatalities, and calls for the consideration of place-based approaches to self-harm prevention that targets identified risk groups such as young women and middle-aged men.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Jason

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