New report shows increasing rate of opioid-related harm in Victoria

  • A new report by the Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC) shows a growing number of Victorians are presenting to emergency departments with opioid-related harm.
  • Opioid-related ED presentations have increased by an annual average rate of 3.1 per cent over the past 10 years.
  • The most commonly recorded opioid types were codeine, oxycodone and tramadol.

A growing number of Victorians are presenting to emergency departments due to pharmaceutical opioid-related harm, according to new data released by the Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC).

The latest edition of Hazard, a report published by MUARC’s Victorian Injury Surveillance Unit (VISU), shows that opioid-related emergency department (ED) presentations increased annually by an average of 3.1 per cent during the 10-year period of 2008-09 to 2017-18.

The trend was most pronounced among males aged 45 to 54 years, with an average annual increase of 7.9 per cent.

While pharmaceutical opioids are used for pain relief, the medicines can cause euphoria, dependence and, in the case of overdose, fatal respiratory suppression.

In the three-year period from 2015-16 to 2017-18, more than half of the ED presentations were coded as “intentional self-harm” (51.3 per cent); 26.1 per cent were coded as “unintentional”; and 22.7 per cent were coded as “other and undetermined intent”.

Intentional self-harm was highest among 15 to 19-year-old females (71.4 per cent), who also represented the largest group for overall opioid-related ED presentations.

During this three-year-period, there were 2618 ED presentations relating to opioids. The most common opioid types were codeine and oxycodone, followed by tramadol.

There were also 3946 hospital admissions during the same period, an average of 1315 per year. Females (61.9 per cent) were more likely than males (38.1 per cent) to be admitted to hospital for opioid-related poisoning.

The majority of these admissions were coded as intentional self-harm (60.5 per cent); 27.3 per cent were coded as unintentional poisoning; and a smaller proportion were coded as poisoning of undetermined intent (12.2 per cent).

In the two-year period for which costs were available (2015-16 to 2016-17), the direct costs for pharmaceutical opioid-related hospital admissions totalled $16.35 million.

Several recommendations are made for the prevention of opioid harm. The report suggests the increased availability of overdose “reversal” drug naloxone may help reduce fatalities, and calls for the consideration of place-based approaches to self-harm prevention that targets identified risk groups such as young women and middle-aged men.

The report, which VISU compiled in collaboration with the Monash Addiction Research Centre (MARC), extracted data from the Victorian Admitted Episodes Dataset (VAED), and relevant ED presentations were extracted from the Victorian Emergency Minimum Dataset (VEMD).

To read more coverage by experts on opioid-related harm, visit Monash Lens.