Extra-medical opioid use is costing Australia $15 billion

15 May 2020

Written by: Amaal Mohamud

National Drug Research Institute reveals the first update of the cost of opioids in 13 years.

Research by the National Drug Research Institute (NDRI) at Curtin University, the first new information of the cost of opioids in 13 years, shows a significantly higher cost than the 2007 estimate of $4.75 billion.

The use of opioids for ‘extra-medical’ purposes is costing Australia around $15.7 billion and causing 2200 deaths a year. This includes the use of any illegal opioid such as heroin, pain killers and the use of pharmaceutical opioid not as prescribed.

NDRI’s Professor Steve Allsop said around 650,000 Australians have used opioids for extra-medical reasons over the 12-month period covered in the research.

“The rate of opioid-related deaths has increased over the past two decades. With most deaths occurring in early to mid-life, that represents a huge cost to Australian society. This cost underlines the importance of the recent investments in strategies to address this growing problem, including investment in a national overdose strategy and real-time monitoring systems,” he said.

“Extra-medical use of opioids is likely to result in adverse outcomes that require the use of health services, reduce work productivity, or result in contact with the criminal justice system.”

In the past twenty years, the levels of opioid utilisation has increased substantially in Australia with around 15 million opioid prescriptions being dispensed in 2015 alone. Since then, the Australian government has asked the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to play a role to help reduce the harm.

In 2018, TGA issued a public consultation on prescription opioids. Following the consultation TGA established the Opioid Regulatory Advisory Group (ORAG), which included a range of health professionals to provide expert advice.

As a result of the consultations, the TGA have created ways to ensure appropriate and safe access is maintained such as, smaller pack sizes being available for prescription opioid products and including boxed warnings and class statements in the Product Information (PI) documents.


Photo: By Isaac Quesada available HERE and used under a Creative Commons Attribution. The image has not been modified.