The Herald Sun, November 9, journalist Josh Fagan
ABUSE of prescription painkillers and illegal opioids, such as heroin and opium, has jumped to a 10-year high in Australia.
Worrying new data shows it is claiming the lives of three people a day.
A report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found 1119 people died from opioids in 2016, up from 591 deaths in 2006.
Hospitalisations for opioid poisoning increased 25 per cent, the report said.
The figures, released today, are a snapshot of the growing problem of addiction to legal opioids such as codeine and morphine, and illegal opioids.
Institute spokeswoman Lynelle Moon said there were grave concerns over misuse of prescription opioids.
People took more than the amount prescribed, used other people’s prescriptions or used prescribed medication for non-medical purposes.
“In the case of both deaths and hospitalisations, pharmaceutical opioids were more likely to be responsible than illegal opioids,” Dr Moon said.
The report said 3.1 million people were given 15.4 million opioid prescriptions under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in the 2016-17 financial year.
Oxycodone was the most commonly dispensed prescription opioid, followed by codeine and tramadol.
About 715,000 people used pharmaceutical opioids for illicit or non-medical purposes in 2016-17, the report said.
Over the same period, about 40,000 people used heroin.
The findings come amid debate over the safe injecting room that opened in North Richmond on June 30.
The state government approved the centre in response to an increasing number of heroin-related deaths, mainly in public places in the streets off Victoria St.
The opposition has vowed to scrap the trial if they win the state election.
The institute’s report said the death toll from opioids was not as high as the heroin epidemic of the 1990s.
The 1119 opioid-related deaths in 2016 was the highest recorded since a peak of 1245 in 1999.
The report, Opioid harm in Australia and comparisons between Australia and Canada, examined opioid-related harm between the two countries.
It found Australia had a comparatively higher rate of heroin use.
Dr Moon said the report highlighted the increased harms associated with both pharmaceutical and illegal opioids and showed the benefits of international collaboration in tackling the problem.