Opioid misuse ; Australia's biggest killer

23 May 2023

Opioid misuse ; Australia's biggest killer featured image

Opioid prescribing has quadrupled over the past decade and kills more Aussies than any other drugs. Jennifer Schumann, Churchill Fellow and also the head of the Drug Intelligence Unit at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, has just returned from the USA, Canada, Germany and Switzerland to bring back answers for our opioid crisis in Australia.

Jennifer said: “Opioid prescribing has quadrupled over the past decade in Australia. So have increases in addiction, overdose, and mortality,”

“Despite sporadic attempts to reduce the harm caused by opioids in Australia, nothing has changed in over two decades,”

In her new report, Jennifer presents ways other countries are tackling opioid addiction and misuse.

“Opioid related deaths in Switzerland have in fact decreased by almost two thirds. However, in Australia and the USA, deaths have soared over the past two decades,”

“Traditional methods to confront dynamic drug problems in Australia are not working,”

“Australian governments need to address this, and have the opportunity to respond to our growing opioid crisis with the benefit of the experience of countries that have lived through opioid epidemics and taken different approaches. And to do something differently.” said Jennifer.

Adam Davey, CEO of the Winston Churchill Trust said: “Three deaths a day is three too many. It is encouraging to see Fellows like Jennifer are calling for change to this heartbreaking statistic and to help improve the lives of so many opioid affected Australians, including their families.”

“Churchill Fellows like Jennifer are ready, willing and able to talk to policy makers, to governments of all levels to improve things back in Australia,”

“Jennifer is well positioned to share her knowledge of international approaches to see improved outcomes here in Australia,” said Mr Davey.

Jennifer’s report identifies Australian rates of opioid addiction as the fourth highest in the world, behind the USA, Germany and Canada. While addiction rates in Australia and the USA have soared over the past two decades, rates remain stable in Germany and opioid related deaths in Switzerland have decreased by almost two thirds. Jennifer examined prevention, treatment, harm reduction and law enforcement. Her Churchill Fellowship report includes interviews, field observation and reviewing published literature.

Opioids are used across the world for the treatment of moderate to severe pain. They are often prescribed post operatively, for palliative care or for acute pain management. Opioids are also used in Medication Assisted Treatment for Opioid Dependence (MATOD).

Prior to Jennifer’s Churchill Fellowship, Jennifer’s research has been directly responsible for changes to Australia’s health public health policy and practice.

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