Health groups are calling for greater oversight for prescription painkillers amid concern sufferers are at serious risk of addiction.
An increasing number of chronic pain sufferers are being prescribed pharmaceutical opioids, which can be highly addictive.
Rising trend of prescribing opioids for treatment
The supply of oxycodone has increased significantly in the past two decades.
According to research from the Victorian Department of Health’s Malcolm Dobbin, the drug’s supply has increased from less than 100 kilograms in 1991 to well over 2,000 kilograms in 2012.
Australian Pain Society president Dr Malcolm Hogg says doctors often rely on opioids when there is a lack of alternative treatment.
“GPs are struggling with a patient complaining of pain. They have access to opioids through the PBS (Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme) yet they don’t have appropriate access to alternative medications,” Dr Hogg said.[Painkillers are] very good and effective in short or medium-term situations, but become extremely problematic with prolonged usage. Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association chief executive Sam Biondo “So there is an escalation of both the number and the dosing of opioids in the community.”
Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association chief executive Sam Biondo says chronic pain sufferers are of particular concern because they are likely to use medication over a much longer period.
“They’re very good and effective in short or medium-term situations, but become extremely problematic with prolonged usage,” he said. He says those patients can be at risk of addiction, leading to abuse. “That has an impact not only on the individual, but on the family, their loved ones and the community more generally,” he said. “It knocks them out of the work environment as they go on a spiral of trying to manage their pain.”
In some cases, the misuse of prescription drugs can be lethal.
The Victorian Coroners Court found that in 2013, prescription drugs contributed to 310 overdose deaths across the state. Almost two-thirds of those involved opioids.
But Dr Hogg says the actual rate of misuse among patients is hard to quantify.
“We believe there’s a small amount of [abuse], but the significant amount is appropriate use for patients in pain,” he said.
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