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What Australia’s Opioids Crisis Means for Pharmacists

September 2, 2019 0 Comments

ABC news recently reported that the number of Australians accidentally overdosing has climbed by almost 40 per cent in the last decade. This exceeds the national road toll by several hundred people each year. 

Additionally, the Guardian also posted an update on the same matter with the gripping title: “Drug overdoses kill one Australian every five hours”.

The latest figures released recently, Australia’s 2019 Annual Overdose Report by the Pennington Institute, revealed a dramatic spike in the number of overdose deaths. Especially involving prescribed opioids, heroin and other illicit drugs in the last 5 years. The total number of deaths to unintentional drug overdose in Australia had increased 38% between 2001 and 2017 and was growing by 3.4% yearly. The report also showed that in 2017 alone, 1,612 Australians died from unintentional overdoses.

Of those, 904 involved opioids including illicit drugs and legal pharmaceuticals, such as morphine, oxycodone and fentanyl. It’s the prescription opioids that continue to cause most overdoses; they were involved in 53 per cent of all accidental drug-induced deaths in 2017.

What Australia’s Opioids Crisis Means for Pharmacists

The CEO of the Pennington Institute – not-for-profit public health organisation – John Ryan, calls for Australia to consider these findings a national crisis.

Graph Unintentional Drug Induced Deaths By Type

More on opioids

The report also suggests that while it is possible to overdose on multiple drug types, the class of drug that contributes the most to a fatal overdose is opioids. Opioids are used to treat pain and can include pharmaceutical medicines like codeine, oxycodone and fentanyl. These can slow down the central nervous system, including the respiratory system.

Taking a high dosage of an opioid, taking multiple opioids simultaneously or taking opioids in combination with other depressants like alcohol or benzodiazepines puts a person at serious risk of overdose. Other factors that may also contribute to an overdose include a tolerance risk after a period of abstinence, severe ongoing chronic pain or having had an overdose already within the last 12 months.

Twenty years ago, one of the most common drugs causing accidental deaths was heroin, the illicit opioid. Currently the pharmaceutical opioids are responsible for a majority of the overdose deaths.

Graph Number Drug Induced Deaths By Type In 2017

What it means for Pharmacists

As we previously discussed, raising concerns about opioids addiction had resulted in a number of in-depth investigations and repeated warnings on its possible negative effect. In response to the whole situation, several actions were taken across the country.

In 2017, the Federal Government committed $16 million for the rollout of real-time monitoring on prescription drugs, known as SafeScript.

It provides an instant alert to pharmacists and doctors alike if patients have already received multiple supplies of any dangerous prescription-only medicines. Each time a monitored drug is prescribed or dispensed, it will be recorded in the central database of prescription records. The system helps GPs and pharmacists to make safer decisions when it comes to prescribing and dispensing high-risk medicines, and helps to identify patients who are developing signs of dependence.

According to news, from April 2020, every medical practitioner and pharmacist in Victoria will need to access SafeScript before they dispense or prescribe any monitored medicines. There are a couple of requirements for pharmacists in operating the system as well. Currently, Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT have this monitoring program in place. It is possible that there would soon be a national roll-out for the program. It is important to first understand the outcomes of the SafeScript program.

Pharmacy Pills And Capsules Scattered

John Ryan of the Pennington Institute also expressed his concern regarding SafeScript in a press post. It should be centred around cutting back the Demand for opioids, not the Supply entirely.

How will SafeScript impact you at work and what issues do you regularly face with opioids in your Pharmacy? Schedule a Call with our friendly consultant Sean Kelly Today to find out more what pharmacist positions, career advice and general tips he can offer you.

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