In recent decades the range and patterns of opioids used for extra-medical purposes have changed. The use of pharmaceutical opioids exceeds the use of heroin. In 2017, 63 percent of opioid deaths were attributed exclusively to pharmaceutical opioids, 28 percent to illicit opioids and 8 percent to both illicit and pharmaceutical opioids (aged 15-64 years).

The objective of this report was to estimate the social costs arising from extra-medical opioid use in Australia for the financial year 2015/16. Due to data limitations in most cases we only estimated the costs occurring in this 12 month period. For example, on-going care of chronic conditions was not included. The exceptions to this were for certain harms which occurred in 2015/16 but which had longer-term ramifications, for example premature deaths, where discounted streams of future costs (lost economic activity and lost contributions to household chores) and partially offsetting savings (future health expenditure ’avoided’ by premature deaths) were estimated. The authors also included the long-term costs of road traffic accidents, as were the expected future costs of opioid attributable imprisonment for those sentenced in 2015/16.

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