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Problems from prescribing opioid drugs ‘sure to rise’

Problems from prescribing opioid drugs ‘sure to rise’

2 September 2011

Problems associated with the prescription drug Oxycodone will increase in New Zealand if we keep following overseas trends, a conference in Auckland was warned today.

Dr Alistair Dunn of the Northland Health Addiction Service told delegates at the Cutting Edge Addiction Treatment Conference that increased prescribing of Oxycodone in Australia, Canada and the US had resulted in significantly more overdoses and deaths related to its use, and the same rise in the drug’s popularity was starting to happen here.

“In New Zealand there has been a marked increase in Oxycodone prescribing in recent years, despite clear guidelines that it should only be used when other drugs such as morphine are not appropriate.

“That’s a significant concern because Oxycodone is a powerful drug with a high potential for dependence and overdose. In the US, deaths from prescribed opioids now outnumber deaths from heroin and cocaine.”

In 2006 fewer than 1000 New Zealanders were prescribed Oxycodone. That number had grown to around 21,000 by 2009. In 2010 we spent just $3 million on morphine and $5 million on Oxycodone.

“What’s also of great concern is that there hasn't been a corresponding drop in morphine use which means significantly more New Zealanders are now being prescribed opiates.”

Dr Dunn said the preference among prescribers for Oxycodone doesn't make a lot of sense especially when one considers it is no more effective in treating pain than morphine, and it is significantly more expensive.

“Oxycodone is a relatively new drug so it’s going through a bit of a ‘honeymoon phase’. Doctors may be assuming that newer equals better and, because it hasn't been around for long, there’s not a lot being said about negative impacts from its long-term use.”

Dr Dunn said all those working in the addiction sector should take heed of overseas experiences so we can avoid witnessing the same harms from Oxycodone in New Zealand, and he called on delegates who may be prescribers not to use it as a first resort.

Cutting Edge is an annual nationwide addiction treatment conference, covering alcohol, other drugs, problem gambling and smoking cessation. It is being held at the Rendezvous Hotel 1-2 September with around 400 participants.

For more information about Cutting Edge visit


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