Pharmacotherapy in Australia

Opioid pharmacotherapy is one of the main treatment options for dependence on opioid drugs, such as heroin and morphine. Treatment involves replacing the opioid drug of dependence with a legally obtained, longer-lasting opioid. In Australia, clients attend dosing point sites (for example, pharmacies) regularly to take the dose of their prescribed medication under the supervision of a pharmacist or other health professional.

Clients who receive pharmacotherapy treatment can be captured in various data sources. The two national sources presented in this report are:

Due to the specifications of these collections, it is not possible to directly compare or identify people who received pharmacotherapy treatment via dosing point site as well as treatment from a publicly funded alcohol and other drug (AOD) service (see technical notes for more details). However, exploring this information in parallel can provide a more detailed picture about pharmacotherapy treatment in Australia.


Overview

The following data visualisation shows:

  • Closed treatment episodes by main treatment type, 2019–20 (AODTS NMDS 2019–20).
  • Clients receiving opioid pharmacotherapy treatment by pharmacotherapy type, 2019 (NOPSAD collection 2020).

The dashboard summarises the proportion of clients receiving pharmacotherapy across two data collections. The AODTS NMDS dashboard shows that 1.6% of clients seeking treatment for their own drug use received pharmacotherapy in 2019–20. The NOPSAD collection dashboard shows that 53,316 clients received pharmacotherapy treatment on a snapshot day in June 2020.


Demographic characteristics 

The following data visualisation shows:

  • Closed episodes by age group and main treatment type, 2019–20 (AODTS NMDS 2019–20).
  • Closed episodes where pharmacotherapy was the main treatment by sex, 2019–20 (AODTS NMDS 2019–20).
  • Clients receiving opioid pharmacotherapy treatment by age group, 2020 (NOPSAD collection 2020).
  • Clients receiving pharmacotherapy treatment clients by sex, 2020 (NOPSAD collection 2020).

The AODTS NMDS dashboard shows that most (37%) closed treatment episodes where pharmacotherapy was the main treatment type were for clients aged 30–39. Where pharmacotherapy was the main treatment type, most closed treatment episodes (69%) were also for males. The NOPSAD collection dashboard shows that the proportion of clients receiving methadone was higher for older age groups (4.6% of clients aged under 30, compared to 62% of clients aged 40–59). The proportion of clients receiving buprenorphine and buprenorphine-naloxone was highest for clients aged 30–49. The majority (67%) of clients receiving opioid pharmacotherapy were male.


Treatment characteristics

The following data visualisation shows:

  • Closed episodes where pharmacotherapy was the main treatment by principal drug of concern, 2019–20 (AODTS NMDS 2019–20).
  • Closed episodes where pharmacotherapy was the main treatment by source of referral, 2019–20 (AODTS NMDS 2019–20)
  • Closed episodes where pharmacotherapy was the main treatment by delivery setting 2019–20 (AODTS NMDS 2019–20).
  • Clients receiving pharmacotherapy treatment by opioid drug of dependence, 2020 (NOPSAD collection 2020).
  • Clients receiving pharmacotherapy treatment by prescriber type, 2020 (NOPSAD collection 2020).
  • Clients receiving pharmacotherapy treatment by dosing point site, 2020 (NOPSAD collection 2020).

The AODTS NMDS dashboard shows that heroin was the principal drug of concern in 44% of closed treatment episodes where pharmacotherapy was the main treatment type. Where pharmacotherapy was the main treatment type in 2019–20, self/family was the most common (62% of closed treatment episodes) source of referral and non-residential treatment facilities was the most common (96%) treatment delivery setting among those receiving treatment for their own drug use. The NOPSAD collection dashboard shows that other than not stated/reported, heroin was the most common (37% of clients) opioid drug of dependence in 2020. On a snapshot day in June 2020, 65% of clients received pharmacotherapy treatment from a private prescriber and 27% were dosed at a public prescriber.