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More prescribers are available for people seeking opioid pharmacotherapy drug treatment, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Dependence on opioid drugs, such as heroin and morphine, is often treated with an opioid pharmacotherapy drug, such as methadone, which can reduce drug cravings, improve physical and mental health and reduce drug-related crime.

The report, National Opioid Pharmacotherapy Statistics 2013, shows that on a snapshot day in 2013, over 47,000 clients received pharmacotherapy treatment for their opioid dependence at 2,355 dosing points around Australia.

It shows there were 2,025 prescribers of opioid pharmacotherapy in Australia in 2013, an increase of 15% from 2012.

'This means that, on average, each prescriber treated fewer clients, with the ratio of clients per prescriber falling from 26 to 23 between 2012 and 2013,' said AIHW spokesperson Geoff Neideck.

Most prescribers worked in the private sector (82%), and most (71%) were authorised to prescribe more than 1 type of pharmacotherapy drug.

Heroin is the most common opioid drug leading people to pharmacotherapy treatment.

'Our report shows that clients were about twice as likely to report heroin as an opioid drug of dependence than they were for all opioid pharmaceuticals combined; however this varied by jurisdiction,' Mr Neideck said.

Methadone continues to be the most common pharmacotherapy drug, with around two-thirds (68%) of clients treated with this drug. The remaining third (32%) received 1 of 2 forms of buprenorphine.

'In recent years, we've seen a rise in the proportion of clients receiving buprenorphine combined with naloxone, which is added to deter injection of the medication,' Mr Neideck said.

The number of people receiving opioid pharmacotherapy treatment almost doubled between 1998 (from around 25,000) and 2013 (around 47,000), but growth in client numbers slowed in recent years (to less than 1% a year from 2010-2013).

As in previous years, opioid pharmacotherapy clients are getting older on average. From 2006-2013 the proportion of clients aged less than 30 more than halved (from 28% to 11%), and the proportion of clients aged 50 and over more than doubled (from 8% to 19%). 

'Most clients need to attend a dosing point regularly to take their opioid pharmacotherapy drug under supervision, and most of these are located in pharmacies,' Mr Neideck said.

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, 13 June 2014

Further information: Mr Geoff Neideck, AIHW, tel. (02) 6244 1163, mob. 0439 878 933

Full publication: National Opioid Pharmacotherapy Statistics 2013