The Pennington Institute’s Australia’s Annual Overdose report was released today, and along with it a flurry of media stories on opioids, and how many Australian’s are dying every year due to overdoses. In every article, chronic pain patients are included in the same patient group as those with substance abuse disorders, and never is there any mention of the therapeutic value of opioids, or that thousands of chronic non-cancer pain patients take opioid pain medications safely long term to effectively manage their severe pain conditions.
There are over 2000 overdose deaths in Australia every year. Of those, 900 are unintentional and involve opioids. Just over half of those are in people who have a history of injecting drugs and substance abuse.
The article states that only 16% of overdoses are intentional, but I’ve seen that figure put at much more like 30-40% by suicide prevention groups. Deaths are only counted as suicide where there is clear evidence (e.g. a note). Where it is likely, but uncertain that the death was intentional, the death is still listed as ‘unintentional’.
The article generally lumps those living with addiction and substance abuse and those taking pharmaceutical opioids to manage chronic pain all together as one group, and doesn’t differentiate between addiction and dependence. The vast majority of chronic pain patients are dependent on their medications, but NOT addicted.
The media (and doctors) keep conflating the two, leading to this idea that everyone on long term opioids is a addict, and that opioids have no therapeutic value.
The truth is that chronic pain patients rarely get addicted. Long term, opioids ARE safe and effective for some patients, and access to them is being removed without there being any science-based evidence to support this.
In the US, where the “opioid epidemic” began, force tapering chronic pain patients off their opioids led to an increase in the suicide rate. We do NOT want that happening here in Australia.