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Face of opioid dependency changing

The number of people receiving treatment for dependence on painkillers codeine and oxycodone trebled between 2002 and 2011, a new study has found.

Research from the University of New South Wales’ National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre NDARC also found that of those people in treatment for opioid dependence, 1 in 5 were dependent on pharmaceutical opioids. Those treated for the dependence were older, less likely to inject and more likely to be living in rural and remote areas.

Senior research fellow Dr Suzanne Nielsen presented the research at the NDARC’s Annual Research Symposium. She said delivery of treatment should be adapted, given the changing profile of opioid dependence.

“Compared with people in treatment for heroin dependence a decade ago, the people we are seeing now are older, more likely to be employed, more likely to be female and more likely to have a history of chronic pain,” Nielsen said. “Some may be reluctant to come forward because of the stigma associated with traditional treatment for heroin dependence.”

Other research presented at the symposium found that of those being prescribed strong opioids, such as oxycodone, for chronic pain, 40 per cent were taking high doses or very high doses and were at high risk of becoming dependent.

Lead author of the study, Gabrielle Campbell, said the team found no difference in pain relief between those taking more than 200mg of oxycodone daily and those taking 90mg daily.

Campbell said: “Both groups, however, were equally likely to become dependent, tamper with their medicines and use them other than as prescribed.”

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