Australia’s painkiller opiate problem

September 30, 2015

9 News

It’s not ice, it’s not heroin and it’s not even illegal. Oxycodone has long been used to treat cancer pain. But now, it’s become one of the most common prescription painkillers on the market.

The highly addictive prescription drug, also known as ‘Hilbilly Heroin’, has become a spiralling public health epidemic and public health campaigners continue to struggle with how to tackle it.

Oxycontin is an opiate that numbs pain by mimicking your body’s natural endorphins. The longer you take it, the lesser your body produces endorphins naturally – resulting in a lot of people tending to feel depressed when they stop taking it.

At 57, disabled pensioner Phil Bortnoski doesn’t look like a drug addict. But after being introduced to oxycodone after a knee replacement, that is exactly what he has become.

When he was eventually taking four times his original dose, he watched his life decay around him. After coming clean to his GP and with the support of his family, Mr Bortnoski underwent a detoxification program and finally kicked the habit.

In 2008, Australian actor Heath ledger died from acute intoxification. A combination of six pills were found in his system – including oxycodone and a number of anti-anxiety sedatives.

Since his son’s death, Mr Ledger has become the patron of Scriptwise Australia – a non-profit foundation that represents thousands of families whose lives have been torn apart from prescription drug use.

According to the latest government figures, more than 3.7 million prescriptions for oxycodone in the financial year ending June 2014.

For their part in eliminating the problem, Scriptwise and many other medical professionals are calling for a real-time monitoring system, to see where a patient has been and what they’ve already been prescribed.

“We can prescribe more safely and have a better idea of what patients have been described up until this point,” Dr Ginzi said.

But until such a system is potentially rolled out, Mr Ledger has a stern warning for everybody: “The responsibility really falls back on ourselves and what we put in our mouths”.

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