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The Opioid Epidemic in Australia

The old stereotype of an opioid/heroin addict is no longer typical.


In reality, opioid addiction and overdose affect all parts of society - including white collar people and the elderly. It is also very often in regional and remote communities.


The problem is now frequently the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs (in particular Oxycodone) rather than drugs of abuse such as heroin. Growth in Oxycodone use has been dramatic and its abuse and overdoses in the USA have killed more Americans than World War 2!


Indeed it kills over 100 Americans each day and more than 42,000 have died from opioid overdose in 2016.  The number of deaths in Australia from opioids has doubled in the decade up to 2016 from 591 to 1119 and most of these deaths are from prescription opioids such as Oxycodone.


There has been a several-fold growth in opioid/Oxycodone prescriptions in Australia. This may be exacerbated by the new restrictions on Codeine (which frankly is a poor analgesic). And whilst opioids have a role in malignant pain, they are NOT useful for acute pain after the first few weeks – and often simple analgesics such as Paracetamol are often as effective for mild to moderate pain. 


There are anecdotes about patients with malignant pain on very large doses who may be selling some of the medications on the black market for illicit use. And the quantities they may be getting could be in the hundreds of tablets per week. There is a cohort of people out there who are addicted to Oxycodone who may be invisible to us at present but are a risk at work from impairment.


Those who are addicted can be helped and the risks of impairment at the workplace can be reduced by helping them. Oral fluid testing can detect opioids including heroin and (with the new ASNZ4760:2019 standard) Oxycodone, helping to minimise risk. In our experience, many workers who have a problem with substances will voluntarily come forward for assistance if they know that random testing is coming.


DASA can assist organisations to navigate these difficult issues with experts such as Associate Professor David Allen our managing director and in house Medical Review Officer, readily available for advice and guidance - just contact us at info@dasa.net.au