From 2015 to 2019, there was an average of 376 overdose deaths a year, with pharmaceutical drugs contributing to 80% of these.Ê
There are many prescription drugs that are misused, including growth hormones and anabolic steroids. However, opioids and benzodiazepines are among the most commonly misused drugs. Vulnerable individuals may use substances including psychoactive prescription drugs to make themselves feel better.ÊThis new, hidden populationÊmay differ from the usual drug user stereotypes and be more highly functioning, have higher socioeconomic status, better education and more social support.Ê
Like many countries, Australia is experiencing a concerning rise in intentional and accidental codeine-related deaths.ÊA study led by the University of New South Wales found that, over the 10 years to 2009, deaths with codeine as an underlying cause more than doubled from 3.5 per one million people to 8.7. The study found those who died from accidental overdose were more likely to have also taken other substances and to have had a history of substance abuse problems and chronic pain.
DirectLine, a Victorian telephone alcohol and drug counselling service, now receives more calls about prescription opioids (31%) than heroin (12%). Many people detained by police test positive for benzodiazepines and prescription opioids. In needle and syringe programs, the number of people who report that the last drug injected was a pharmaceutical opioid increased from 7% in 2000 to 27% in 2010. Heroin was the main drug injected at the Sydney Medically Supervised Injecting Centre until 2009. Monthly visits for injections of crushed and dissolved prescription opioid tablets (4000) now exceed those for heroin (1200). 2
Earlier this year we have a positive step to tackle this crisis, drugs containing codeine Ð an addictive substance closely related to morphine and derived from opium Ð will no longer be available from pharmacies without a prescription.
The National Pharmaceutical Drug Misuse: Framework for Action,Êincludes a system to coordinate the safe supply of pharmaceutical drugs subject to misuse. The hope is to reduce these numbers and tackle the problem of opioid addiction.