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

Lachlan Roberts 20 June 2019

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.”

Original Article published by Lachlan Roberts on The RiotACT.

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