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Australians receiving pharmacotherapy treatment for opioid dependence are getting older, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, National Opioid Pharmacotherapy Statistics Annual Data collection: 2011, presents information on the use of certain medications used to treat opioid dependence in Australia.

The data are based on a ‘snapshot’ period—usually a day—in June 2011. On the snapshot day in 2011, there were 46,446 clients and 1,444 prescribers.

‘The proportion of clients aged 30 years and over increased from 72% in 2006 to 85% in 2011, with the median age of clients in 2011 being 38 years,’ said AIHW spokesperson Anna White.

‘Almost one in 10 clients (9%) identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.’

The report presents findings on the use of three medications in treating opioid dependence—methadone, buprenorphine, and buprenorphine-naloxone (buprenorphine in combination with naloxone).

Methadone is a synthetic opioid used to treat opioid dependence. Taken daily, it reduces opioid withdrawal symptoms, the desire to take opioids, and the euphoric effect when opioids are taken .Buprenorphine acts in a similar way, but is longer lasting and may be taken daily or every second or third day. Buprenorphine–naloxone acts the same as buprenorphine alone when taken orally, as intended, but if injected naloxone blocks the effects of buprenorphine and increases opioid withdrawal symptoms. This reduces the risk of it being misused by those it is prescribed to.

‘Of the drugs reported in the 2011 collection, methadone was still the drug most commonly used to treat opioid dependence, although the proportion of clients taking buprenorphine–naloxone increased from 5% in 2006 to 17% in 2011,’ Ms White said.

In 2011, 69% of clients took methadone and 14% took buprenorphine.

‘Buprenorphine-naloxone was used more by younger clients than older clients, with methadone more likely to be used among clients older than 40 years,’ Ms White said.

The most common prescriber type was private prescribers (79%).

‘The proportion of prescribers authorised to prescribe more than one pharmacotherapy drug had increased from 51% in 2006 to 77% in 2011. There were 2,264 pharmacotherapy dosing point sites in 2010–11, an increase of 64 sites from 2009–10. Most (88%) dosing points were located in pharmacies.

The AIHW is a major national agency set up by the Australian Government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia's health and welfare.

Canberra, 19 June 2012

Further information: Ms Anna White, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1086, mob. 0418 271 395

Full report: National Opioid Pharmacotherapy Statistics Annual Data collection: 2011