Dependence on opioid drugs is associated with a range of health and social problems that affect individual drug users, their family and friends, and the wider public. This bulletin presents information on the clients receiving opioid pharmacotherapy treatment, the doctors prescribing opioid pharmacotherapy drugs, and the dosing points that clients attend to receive their medication.
Over 48,000 Australians received pharmacotherapy treatment for their opioid dependence on a snapshot day in June 2014
The number of people receiving opioid pharmacotherapy treatment almost doubled between 1998 (from around 25,000) and 2014, but growth in client numbers slowed in recent years (growing by 0.5-2% a year between 2011 and 2014).
Heroin is the most common opioid drug leading people to pharmacotherapy treatment
Clients were nearly twice as likely to report heroin as an opioid drug of dependence as they were for all opioid pharmaceuticals combined, however this varied by jurisdiction.
Methadone continued to be the drug most commonly prescribed; the form in which buprenorphine is prescribed is changing
Around two-thirds (67%) of clients received methadone in 2014, and this has been relatively stable since 2006. The remaining third (33%) received 1 of 2 forms of buprenorphine. Of these, the proportion receiving buprenorphine only has fallen (from 24% to 13%) while the proportion receiving buprenorphine combined with naloxone has risen (from 5% to 20%) over the same period. Naloxone is added to buprenorphine to deter its injection.
Opioid pharmacotherapy clients are getting older on average
In 2014, around two-thirds (69%) of clients were aged 30-49, and this has been fairly consistent since 2006. However, from 2006 to 2014 the proportion of clients aged less than 30 more than halved (from 28% to 10%), and the proportion of clients aged 50 and over more than doubled (from 8% to 21%). These trends indicate an ageing population of clients in pharmacotherapy treatment.
Males and Indigenous Australians are over-represented in pharmacotherapy treatment
Around two-thirds (65%) of clients receiving pharmacotherapy in June 2014 were male. Where reported, 1 in 10 (10%) clients identified as Indigenous and Indigenous Australians were around 3 times as likely to have received pharmacotherapy treatment as non-Indigenous Australians.
Prescriber numbers have increased, and most work in the private sector
The number of prescribers of opioid pharmacotherapy rose by 31% since 2012 (from 1,768 to 2,319). In 2014, most prescribers treated 1-5 clients (39%), worked in the private sector (82%) and were authorised to prescribe more than 1 type of pharmacotherapy drug (74%).
Most dosing points were located in pharmacies
Most clients need to attend a dosing point regularly to take their opioid pharmacotherapy drug under supervision. In 2013-14 there were 2,432 dosing point sites in Australia, and 9 in 10 (89%) were located in pharmacies.