Australia has ‘significant’ opioid problem, says health minister in GP warning

This sounds like hyperbole, but unfortunately is not. More people die from accidental overdose of the legal prescription of opioids than die from heroin overdose. Opioids refer to opium-like drugs, such as morphine, pethidine, fentanyl and oxycodone. They are strong pain-killers which makes them very useful drugs. However, they are also highly addictive which makes them hard to come off if taken regularly for even a few weeks. Also the amount required to overdose is not a lot greater than the amount required to relieve pain, making them potentially lethal. Further complicating the situation is the additive effect with sedatives such as benzodiazepines, and of course alcohol.


The Daily Telegraph, on Saturday 22 Sep 2018, reported the tragic accidental death of a young Australian man holidaying in Canada. His mother expected a phone call from him, but instead received the horrific news of his death from a friend. It was reported that he was taking oxycodone and diazepam in the prescribed doses. Toxicology showed both drugs were at therapeutic levels. It was just the combined effect that stopped him breathing, resulting in another unnecessary loss of life.


The Penington Institute in Australia reported that the number of deaths from these prescribed drugs has doubled in the last fifteen years to over 2000 per year. Surprisingly, most of these deaths are in people aged 30 – 60 years of age.


Minister Hunt’s warning is very timely. He has only this week sent an emergency delegation to the United States to explore ways to tackle this deadly problem.


Follow Dr Alex Joannou on LinkedIn.