The extent and correlates of community-based pharmaceutical opioid utilisation in Australia

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There has been concern regarding the increasing use of opioids and related harm. We present data on opioid utilisation across Australia and consider sociodemographic factors that may affect utilisation rates.


IMS Health national sales data for over-the-counter (codeine) and prescription opioids (buprenorphine, codeine, dextropropoxyphene, fentanyl, hydromorphone, methadone, morphine, oxycodone, tapentadol and tramadol) were used to estimate total utilisation rates in the community during 2013, mapped to Statistical Local Areas (SLAs) and Remoteness Areas. All opioid amounts were measured in pack sales and milligrammes then converted to oral morphine equivalent milligrammes (OME mg) for comparison across opioids. Data on the demographic characteristics of SLAs were obtained from the ABS (sex and age distribution, income and levels of physical labour) and other sources (number of pharmacies in SLAs) and were included in linear regression analyses.


In 2013, an estimated 10 747 kg (OME) of opioids were sold across Australia, equating to 481 OME mg per person. There was considerable geographic variation in opioid utilisation, with higher rates of use in rural and regional areas. Geographic areas that were less populated, had more men and older people, proportionally more low-income earning households and greater proportions in jobs requiring physical labour had higher utilisation rates.


Substantial geographic variation in opioid utilisation was identified, with areas outside of major cities having higher rates of utilisation of all types of opioids. Prescription monitoring and best practice interventions aimed at improving opioid use need to have a particular focus on areas outside of major cities. Copyright © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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