The prescription pain killers causing more deaths and poisonings than heroin

| 08.08,20. 11:07 PM |

The prescription pain killers causing more deaths and poisonings than heroin

For dental pain, opioids should not be prescribed as first-line treatment. (9News)

A new study has prompted calls for dentists to be part of the solution to stem the use of opioids in Australia.

Opioids play an important part in pain relief and include drugs such as codeine, oxycodone, tramadol and morphine.

However, prescription opioids are now causing far more deaths and poisonings than heroin.

A series of reforms to stem the crisis included making codeine prescription only in February 2018, and more recently, the introduction of smaller pack sizes.

A study was done to assess the effects of the 2018 reforms on opioid prescribing patterns among dentists.

It showed that there were 213,933 opioid scripts filled through the PBS in 2018. Most of them were for codeine with paracetamol.

Over the two years, prescriptions for that medication increased by 20 per cent, oxycodone jumped by 23.5 per cent and tramadol rose by nearly 14 per cent.

"It doesn't tell us the why, it doesn't tell us about the appropriateness of the prescriptions and whether they're necessarily wrong.

Certainly it's a pattern that needs to be investigated," said the study's author, the University of Melbourne's Dr Leanne Teoh, who is a dentist and pharmacist.

The findings were published in the medical journal, Scientific Reports.

Dr Teoh said for dental pain, opioids should not be prescribed as first-line treatment.

"From a medication perspective, it's anti-inflammatories and paracetamol," she said.

The Australian Dental Association says the increase was most likely due to dentists forced to write prescriptions when codeine no longer became available over the counter.

"Codeine prescribing has likely decreased since then as educational programs and the Therapeutic Guidelines encourage dentists to use non-opioid products for management of acute dental pain," said ADA President Dr Carmelo Bonanno.

Dentists are not able to access real-time monitoring systems on consumers who are known to be drug seekers such as Safe Script in Victoria.

"All prescribers should be given access in the same way medical practitioners can," said Dr Bonanno.

Dr Teoh said dentists need to be included in discussions about opioids and they should be able to make better prescribing decisions by monitoring misuse.
"Dentists should be allowed and have access to these tools," she said.

The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia agrees, citing significant concerns about the opioid trend in the study.

"All prescribers should be part of the safescript system and pharmacists provide the backstop to make sure these drugs are not causing harms, said PSA National President Associate Prof Chris Freeman.

There are now campaigns to educate patients about the risks of taking opioids, especially those struggling with chronic non-cancer patient.

"We need to raise awareness about the alternatives for patients," said Rawa Osman, pharmacist and clinical lead for the NPS MedicineWise opioids program.



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