Over the past three decades, the use of opioids for pain management has surged in Australia, ranking the country eighth in global opioid consumption by 2019.
However, this increase in opioid prescriptions has been accompanied by a parallel rise in opioid-related deaths.
Between 2007 and 2016, opioid-related fatalities doubled in Australia, with prescription opioids primarily contributing to this concerning trend.
PBS Changes (June 2020)
In response to the opioid crisis, the Australian government initiated changes to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) in June 2020.
These alterations aimed to transform opioid prescription practices, including the reduction of opioid pack sizes and the revision of prescription guidelines.
Prescription Monitoring Programs
All Australian territories and states have implemented prescription monitoring programs, which serve to mitigate the risks associated with opioid prescriptions by alerting healthcare professionals to potential misuse.
However, the effectiveness of these programs remains uncertain, with recent research suggesting no significant reduction in high-dose opioid prescriptions following their introduction.
Opioid Dependence Treatment Program
Australia has modified its opioid dependence treatment program to subsidize medications for those grappling with opioid dependence.
While this change alleviates costs for more than 50,000 Australians, concerns have been raised about the hasty implementation potentially limiting treatment accessibility.
The United States experienced a notable decline in opioid prescriptions following the introduction of monitoring systems and the release of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines in 2016.
However, these measures inadvertently led to adverse consequences, including an uptick in mental health issues and opioid overdoses, particularly with the proliferation of illicit opioid use.
The emergence of synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, contributed to a surge in fatalities.
Australian vs. U.S. Approach
While both nations introduced prescription drug-monitoring programs, Australia has adopted a health-focused strategy, steering clear of the U.S. law enforcement-centric approach.
Despite no substantial evidence of a reduction in high-dose opioid prescriptions in Australia, individuals with chronic pain have reported difficulties in accessing opioids.
In 2023, Australia introduced guidelines emphasizing gradual opioid tapering and collaborative decision-making between doctors and patients. These guidelines acknowledge that abrupt cessation of opioids may not be suitable for everyone.
The effectiveness of Australia’s distinctive approach in averting the escalation of opioid-related harm, as witnessed in the United States, remains to be seen.
This summary provides an overview of the opioid prescribing landscape in Australia, highlighting the nation’s interventions, drawing comparisons with the U.S. experience, and emphasizing Australia’s unique health-oriented approach to address the opioid crisis.
This study was published in the International Journal of Drug Policy.
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