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A painful reality: Why Canberrans are the second biggest opioid consumers in Australia

Lachlan Roberts 19 June 2019 33

For every 1000 people in the ACT, about 15 doses of oxycodone and about 10 doses of fentanyl were taken every day. File photo.

Canberrans’ use of pharmaceutical opioids fentanyl and oxycodone is the second highest in the nation, according to a new report into wastewater from the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.

The latest findings from the commission reveal the use of pharmaceutical opioids spiked in many parts of the country with the ACT and Tasmania recording some of the largest increases. Data revealed that for every 1000 people in the ACT, about 15 doses of oxycodone and about 10 doses of fentanyl were taken every day.

But why is this the case?

Dr David Caldicott from the ANU College of Health and Medicine, who played a key role in this year’s pill testing experiment at Groovin the Moo, believes the high levels of pharmaceutical opioids consumed in the nation’s capital is not due to misuse of controlled drugs but rather because Canberrans have a lower pain threshold.

“One of the issues that springs to mind is that we have an affluent and fairly well-informed patient body in the ACT, many of whom would have quite a firm opinion as to what level of pain they should have to endure,” he said.

“There is an expectation in the ACT that people should not experience pain, which is not really realistic.

“It is not difficult to access medical care in the ACT, so I think that these statistics reveal more about the manner in which we prescribe opioids. It is just impossible to attribute one cause but this is my best guess based on my knowledge of Canberra.”

According to Dr Caldicott, the territory’s and Australia’s consumption of opioids had significantly increased over the past decade, and he expects it will continue to grow in the coming years.

“The ACT is very careful about how we monitor prescribing so I think this is more to do with an extenuation of a broader pattern around Australia, which shows a significant increase in the amount of prescribing,” he said.

“It has gone up four-fold in the past decade and it is not at all good news for Australia.

“And as we age and go towards this ‘grey boom’, we will probably see a greater and greater requirement of painkillers because ageing is associated with pain.”

But when Dr Caldicott looks into the crystal ball to see how Canberrans will use pharmaceutical opioids in the future, he believes that the use of opioids will be replaced with Cannabis when it is legalised.

“If wastewater analysis is still a thing in a decade, I think it would be quite a different spread,” he said. “I think one of the things that will affect the uptake of opioids is a sense of apprehension largely because of what is happening in the United States.

“There are shifts globally, which are a little slower in Australia due to political reasons, we are seeing shifts globally from opioids towards medicinal Cannabis.

“I would argue that in a decade’s time, we might see a substantial move away from an opioid wastewater analysis towards Cannabinoids being consumed medicinally. I think that will be the future.”


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33 Responses to
A painful reality: Why Canberrans are the second biggest opioid consumers in Australia
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gositsa 12:37 am 21 Jun 19

The ones who know best are the ones that aren’t suffering chronic pain! I’d nearly be dead before my Dr would prescribe opioids despite having many injuries that make my life hell. Whilst exercise can help to a decent degree in a lot of situations, it isn’t the total cure. A careful & balanced use of pain relievers to alleviate the suffering of human beings is not an unreasonable thing to expect. So long as the users acknowledge their addictive effects & use them wisely & cautiously with appropriate medical supervision the level of abuse should be manageable. What’s also really frustrating is the a’holes that abuse them for recreational use thereby making it that much harder for people suffering genuine chronic pain to access.

steveu 5:58 am 20 Jun 19

“…It is not difficult to access medical care in the ACT…”. I call rubbish on that one. Its very expensive in the ACT, as no doctors want to work here as there isn’t enough money in it for them.

9:38 pm 19 Jun 19

Where are these doctors- mine wouldn’t even give me 2 knock out tablets for a flight to Europe - in cattle ffs

8:06 pm 19 Jun 19

Der - because people are doing drugs.

5:26 pm 19 Jun 19

Amne Alrifai this is great

3:04 pm 19 Jun 19

So when are we legalizing weed ?

3:04 pm 19 Jun 19

Lots of stressed and overworked public servants.

2:16 pm 19 Jun 19

Have we checked out the politicians’ use of these?

1:06 pm 19 Jun 19

May be we need to start drug testing the public service like we do truck/bus/taxi/forklift drivers.

1:00 pm 19 Jun 19

Where are these people getting them from ... asking for a friend🤔🤔🤔

12:25 pm 19 Jun 19

Who did we lose to?

11:51 am 19 Jun 19

They're are over prescribed simple as that

    12:39 pm 19 Jun 19

    Garvin Francis how am I over prescribed?

    3:26 pm 19 Jun 19

    Jackie Fuller I was referring to the fact that high in pain medications are given out too easily and I see evidence of it every day in my job

    10:33 pm 19 Jun 19

    Garvin Francis What drugs are you talking about. It is my understanding that it is the serious drugs like Oxycodone, Endone, Fentanyl that are the problem so far as abuse is concerned - not panadeine forte.

    11:12 pm 19 Jun 19

    Julie Coker-Godson that's what I was talking about.

11:32 am 19 Jun 19

I'm sick of this whole debate. My GP believes this over use includes panadeine forte and has stopped prescribing it for the control of my backpain. The over use of opiates is about oxycodone, endone and fentanyl - none of which I am prescribed. Being sent to exercise classes won't make any difference to my back pain as it is an old injury that will deteriorate over my senior years regardless. And the pain is not psychological or stress related either (as has been suggested). I was even told that panadeine forte was restricted - since when?

    11:52 am 19 Jun 19

    Julie Coker-Godson I disagree Julie exercise is a far better option than a pharmaceutical blanket that masks symptoms and makes you feel better

    11:52 am 19 Jun 19

    And I say this as a soft tissue therapist with years of experience

    12:10 pm 19 Jun 19

    Julie Coker-Godson same profile .. excruitating pain somedays ... tried everything but laying on coach is not solution ... being zonked out is no good ... just keep moving mate. 😎👍

    12:42 pm 19 Jun 19

    Garvin Francis how is exercise going to fix my failed spinal fusion ??

    12:59 pm 19 Jun 19

    Julie Coker-Godson I’m on one of these medications. I have to take it exercise won’t help with nerve pain. And I’m not zonked out as Jack put it, far from it, I’m a mum of two and work full time in a high level management role. Without it I wouldn’t be able to function. I’m sick of this debate too!!!

    5:10 pm 19 Jun 19

    Jackie Fuller move everything else besides the fused part.. are you able to move every single bone in your body?

    5:36 pm 19 Jun 19

    Hmmm I don't know Garvin but I am a big exerciser who also suffers serious chronic pain. Exercise actually makes the pain worse. I do it because I enjoy it knowing I will feel worse after. Don't tell people like me and Julie what we need to do to feel better. I do everything the Drs suggest and it simply doesn't work.

    5:42 pm 19 Jun 19

    Codeine in Panadeine forte/Neurofen plus was restricted at the start of the year, because people were abusing the codeine, an opioid, which sometimes also led to dependence to harder opioids, but also causing liver, gut and kidney side effects from the excess paracetamol/ibuprofen.

    Also, there are numerous studies showing that opioids are not the one-stop cure for non-cancer related pain, and are causing more harm than good.

    8:27 pm 19 Jun 19

    Garvin Francis a soft tissue therapist who has never experience chronic pain then? is that right? you have NO idea what you're atlking about. Many people can improve their injuries by moving and exercising. I cannot exercise UNLESS i have opioid pain relief. without it, I can't move and the pain is unbearalbe and I'd rather die. But with it, I can function somewhat, I exercise and do physio, and I work and care for my kids. So...you're telling me I'm wrong?

    10:13 pm 19 Jun 19

    Jack Hearps Exercise does not assist with nerve pain and there is no being zonked out as you say. I have never had 'zonked out' reactions to panadeine forte and it was strong enough for the pain I had. All this pain has re-started because I am no longer using panadeine forte and I am very angry as it is so unnecessary and I hate the presumptions being made in some of the comments on here.

    10:15 pm 19 Jun 19

    Leanne Hermes A huge THANK YOU for that comment. I am supposed to be going back to "recommence exercise" but I have no intention of doing so.

    10:18 pm 19 Jun 19

    Teresa BRx I've never had any problems with Panadeine Forte, nor any inclination to abuse or harder medications. I only needed what was sufficient to relieve the pain at the time I am experiencing it. Thus, no pain, no tablet taking - end of story. I am not a potential drug addict and I resent the presumption that every patient may go down this path.

11:20 am 19 Jun 19

My experience was that medical staff were keener to give me them in hospital, than what I needed. Panadol would have done as well as oxycodone

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