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Over the past 10 years, the number of prescriptions for pharmaceutical opioids in Australia has soared, and prescriptions for one drug in particular, oxycodone, have shown a significant increase. Both are trends that have the nation's medical community very concerned.
'There is a serious problem,' Professor Jake Najman, the Director of Queensland Alcohol and Drug Research and Education Centre said. 'The amount of prescribing of opioids [in Australia] has massively increased, and a lot of that is being diverted from medication use to illicit use.'
Oxycodone prescriptions increased in Australia by more than 152%, from 35.3 to 89.2 per 1,000 population, between 2002-03 and 2007-08.
A number of recent medical and policy changes have been introduced aiming to combat the soaring increase in the use and distribution of oxycodone and other prescription opioids in Australia.
A new formulation of a popular brand of oxycodone, OxyContin, was introduced into Australia at the beginning of April. Pharmaceutical company Mundipharma Australia introduced non-crushable tablets in a bid to prevent people's ability to snort or inject the drug. When mixed with water, the new tablets turn into a gel too thick to be injected or into a marshmallow-like blob when attempts are made to crush them.
Researchers from National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) and the University of Tasmania are looking into the area of pharmaceutical opioid use and addiction in Australia and have acknowledged that opioid prescribing should not necessarily be the first-line response to pain management, given that the long-term use of opioids can lower the threshold to pain and may be ineffective in pain in the long-term.
Source: Australian Broadcasting Corporation