There are several medications (pharmacotherapies) used to treat problems with alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. These pharmacotherapies can be prescribed for a short, medium or long-term duration, depending on the person’s goals.

In the AODTS NMDS, only episodes where pharmacotherapy was either an additional treatment, or where it was the main treatment with an additional treatment provided, are included. Episodes where pharmacotherapy was the main treatment only and no additional treatment was provided are excluded. Pharmacotherapy is only available to people receiving treatment for their own drug use. As most pharmacotherapy services are outside the scope of the AODTS NMDS, the data presented here are a substantial under‑representation.

More information on opioid pharmacotherapy in Australia is available from the AIHW’s National Opioid Pharmacotherapy Statistics; see the glossary for full description. The latest data indicate that on a snapshot day in 2021, over 47,500 people received pharmacotherapy for opioid dependence, as reported in the National Opioid Pharmacotherapy Statistics Annual Data report (NOPSAD) (AIHW 2021).

For services that were in scope of the AODTS NMDS in 2020–21:

  • pharmacotherapy treatment accounted for 1.9% (5,056) of total episodes for a clients’ own alcohol or drug use
  • of these episodes, 24% (1,193) reported pharmacotherapy as an additional treatment (tables Trt.4, Trt.54).

Client profile

In 2020–21, for clients whose main treatment was pharmacotherapy:

  • almost 7 in 10 (68%) people receiving treatment for their own alcohol or drug use were male
  • 1 in 6 (16%) people identified as Indigenous Australians
  • around two‑thirds (65%) of all people were aged 30–49 and 18% were aged 50 and over (tables SC.18–20).

Treatment profile

For treatment episodes involving pharmacotherapy for a client’s own alcohol or drug use:

  • two in 5 (41%) episodes lasted over 3 months, while 25% lasted 2–29 days and 14% of treatment episodes lasted over 12 months
  • where pharmacotherapy treatment was provided as a main treatment type, the most common principal drugs of concern were heroin (46%) and alcohol (14%), (tables Trt.55, Trt59).