New report exposes severity of harm caused by opioid use

Morgan Liotta

9/11/2018 12:43:28 PM

The AIHW has shed light on the global issue of harm from opioid use, focusing on comparisons between Australia and Canada.

A new AIHW report compares Australia and Canada's rates of harm from opioids.
A new AIHW report compares Australia and Canada's rates of harm from opioids.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s (AIHW) Opioid harm in Australia and comparisons between Australia and Canada underlines the fact that, as is the case with so many other countries, opioid harm is a significant issue in Australia and Canada.
The AIHW partnered with the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) to produce comparable estimates of opioid use and harm in each country. The partnership is based on the fact Australia and Canada have a number of similar demographic profiles, such as public healthcare systems, government-funded pharmaceuticals, life expectancies and common data-coding systems.
Australia’s rates of opioid deaths and hospitalisations from opioid poisoning have increased in the last 10 years and, in 2016, pharmaceutical opioids contributed to more deaths and hospitalisations than heroin.
In 2016–17, there were 9636 hospitalisations and 5112 emergency department (ED) presentations attributed to opioid poisoning in Australia, with approximately 3.1 million people dispensed opioid prescriptions. The period between 2007–08 and 2016–17 saw a 25% rise in the rate of hospitalisations due to opioid poisoning.
Deaths involving opioids have nearly doubled in the last decade. The AIHW has revealed that there were 1119 opioid deaths in 2016, the highest since a peak of 1245 deaths in 1999. The number of deaths then fell to a low in 2006 before rising again.
Figures from the report also show that males in the 35–44 age group represented the highest rate of opioid deaths in Australia in 2016.
The most common types of opioids responsible for deaths in Australia in 2016 were naturally derived opioids (oxycodone, codeine, morphine), attributing to 550 deaths, followed by heroin, which was mentioned in 361 deaths.
In Canada, codeine was the most common opioid used in 2017, based on defined daily doses dispensed per 1000 people.
Although heroin use in Australia today is low compared with peak use and harms in the late 1990s, it is still higher than in Canada and remains a source of concern for opioid harm. Illicit use of the opioid fentanyl is more common in Canada than in Australia, with a recent estimate ranking it as the most commonly detected opioid seized in the country.
AIHW spokesperson Dr Lynelle Moon said there are similarities between opioid harm in Australia and Canada.
‘In both countries, there were more hospitalisations involving side effects from intended use of pharmaceutical opioids than from misuse or use of illicit opioids,’ she said.
Admission rates from EDs to hospital are higher in Australia than in Canada. One in five Canadian (20%) patients with opioid harm treated in EDs are admitted to inpatient care, compared to a much higher proportion of 53% in Australia.
Data from the report also shows differences in the type of opioids used.
‘Different patterns of opioid use have different impacts on users and the health system,’ Dr Moon said. ‘For example, fentanyl is more potent than heroin and is more likely to be lethal, meaning there is a higher risk of death before they can receive healthcare services.’

AIHW Canadian Institute for Health Information codeine emergency presentations fentanyl heroin opioid deaths opioid use

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