Opioids leading in drug-induced deaths

Amanda Lyons

24/10/2017 12:00:00 AM

Drug-related deaths in Australia are at their highest levels in the last two decades, according to figures released yesterday by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

Drug induced deaths from opioids are on the rise in Australia
Drug induced deaths from opioids are on the rise in Australia

The latest edition of Causes of death, Australia revealed that 7.5 deaths per 100,000 Australians are drug-induced. In addition, the types of drugs involved in overdoses has changed significantly, with prescription drugs overtaking their illicit counterparts.
‘There were 1808 drug-induced deaths in 2016, with those deaths most commonly associated with benzodiazepines and oxycodone,’ James Eynstone-Hinkins, ABS Director of Health and Vital Statistics, said. ‘These are both prescription drugs, which are used to manage anxiety and pain, respectively.’
While illicit drugs methamphetamines and heroin are the third and fourth most common causes of drug-related deaths, the profile of the typical user has changed to reflect the rise in opioid use: people who died of drug overdose in 1999 were most likely to be in their early 30s and their toxicology report would tend to detect morphine, heroin or benzodiazepines; whereas today they are more likely to be a middle-aged male living outside of a capital city and misusing prescription opioid drugs.
The changing environment of drug deaths may have its roots in the late 1990s, as Dr Evan Ackermann a GP with a special interest in opioids, explained.
‘There was an increased demand to treat chronic pain, and there were very few options and very little research that had been done on this problem,’ he told newsGP. ‘It was a cultural shift across the healthcare sector, across the board, from pharmacy right through to general practice, specialists and hospitals.’
Opioids proved to be more addictive than anticipated, with few ways to predict which patients would develop dependence problems. Opioids must now be prescribed within very narrow parameters, or not at all.
‘[Opioids] are essential, but potentially dangerous, medications,’ Dr Simon Holliday, GP and Chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Pain Management network, told newsGP. ‘That’s why we have to use them with great care for evidence-based indications only: intraoperative, acute trauma, palliative care, and for opiate dependency management.’
The upcoming November issue of Good Practice will look at the use of opioids in greater detail.

ABS Australian-Bureau-of-Statistics drug-induced-death opioids

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