Growth in use of pharmacotherapy treatment for drug dependence slows

Growth in the number of people receiving pharmacotherapy treatment for opioid dependence has slowed, according to new information published today on the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) website.

Opioid pharmacotherapy drugs, such as methadone, are often used to treat dependence on opioid drugs such as heroin and morphine. Treatment can reduce drug cravings, improve physical and mental health and reduce drug-related crime.

Today's release shows that over 48,000 Australians were on a course of pharmacotherapy treatment for their opioid dependence on a snapshot day in 2014. While the number of people receiving opioid pharmacotherapy treatment almost doubled between 1998 and 2014, growth in client numbers has slowed in recent years.

'Between 1998 and 2010 the number of people receiving opioid pharmacotherapy treatment increased by an average of 5% each year, but this dropped to 2% between 2013 and 2014,' said AIHW spokesperson Geoff Neideck.

New South Wales had the highest rate of people receiving opioid pharmacotherapy (26 clients per 10,000 people), while the Northern Territory had the lowest (6 clients per 10,000 people).

'Our data also show that the  median age of opioid pharmacotherapy clients is increasing, and that males and Indigenous people were over-represented in pharmacotherapy treatment,' Mr Neideck said.

Around two-thirds (69%) of clients in 2014 were aged 30-49, and this proportion has been fairly consistent since 2006. However, from 2006 to 2014 the proportion of clients aged under 30 fell by nearly two-thirds (from 28% to 10%), and the proportion of clients aged 50 and over more than doubled (from 8% to 21%). These trends suggest an ageing cohort of people in pharmacotherapy treatment.

'About two-thirds (65%) of clients receiving pharmacotherapy were male, and around 1 in 10 clients identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.'

Heroin was by far the most common opioid drug of dependence for clients. Methadone continued to be the most commonly prescribed treatment drug, and most clients attended a dosing point located in a pharmacy to take their treatment drug under supervision.

More comprehensive information on opioid treatment will be published in the AIHW report National opioid pharmacotherapy statistics 2014, available later this year.

Today's release is available at www.aihw.gov.au/alcohol-and-other-drugs/nopsad/.

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, 9 April 2015 

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