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How New Zealand can avoid a US-type opioid crisis


Anaesthetists are key players in helping New Zealand avoid replicating the United States’ deadly opioid crisis according to a visiting Mayo Clinic specialist, Dr Steven Clendenen.

Dr Clendenen, who is speaking at the New Zealand Anaesthesia Annual Scientific Meeting in Auckland this week, says opioids are now responsible for one in five deaths in young adults in the US where 115 opioid overdose deaths per day are being recorded.

He says anaesthetists are key players in managing and implementing pain control in patients undergoing surgery by performing nerve blocks and choosing after surgery care pathways that limit the use of opioids.

The US is just under five per cent of the world population yet it is consuming 80 per cent of the world supply of opioids in the crisis, which is said to be deadlier that the Vietnam War.

Dr. Clendenen says limiting the amount of opioids prescribed can drastically reduce the amount that is being consumed both legally from prescriptions and illegally on the black market. But he also believes improving education of health providers and patients is important in implementing strategies for decreasing opioid consumption. He says it appears New Zealand has managed to avoid a US-like crisis because of a centralised health care system and monitoring of opioid prescriptions.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid used as an anaesthetic and pain reliever, especially for people with terminal illnesses and/or patients that cannot tolerate morphine. It is 80 times more potent than morphine and is often administered in patch form in New Zealand. Fentanyl has overtaken other prescription opioids as the number one killer in the opioid epidemic in the US. Dr Clendenen says one of the newer issues is the street sales of counterfeit prescription drugs laced with various concentration of fentanyl resulting in accidental fatal overdoses.

Fentanyl has been linked to 11 deaths in New Zealand since 2011 and opioid overdoses killed 170 people between 2008 and 2012.


The NZ Anaesthesia Annual Scientific Meeting (ASM) is hosted jointly by the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (ANZCA) and the New Zealand Society of Anaesthetists (NZSA).

One of Australasia's largest specialist medical colleges, ANZCA is responsible for the training, examination and specialist accreditation of anaesthetists and pain medicine specialists, and for the standards of clinical practice, in Australia and New Zealand.

The New Zealand Society of Anaesthetists (NZSA) represents and champions the professional interests of anaesthetists and the optimal care of their patients through advocacy, facilitating and promoting education and research, and supporting anaesthesia networks throughout the country.


ENDS

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