The Medical Association would like more research done on why so many doctors are signing prescriptions for strong painkillers. Experts are of the opinion, the increases in opioid prescriptions are fuelling the habits of drug abusers and addicting legitimate patients.
According to Pharmac figures, there has been an alarming increase in the number of prescriptions for opioid drugs like codeine and methadone that have increased nearly 50% since 2005, and which could increase dependency. Its figures show prescriptions for opioid painkillers and related analgesics totalled 2.1 million in 2005 and around 3 million last year.
Peter Foley, Medical Association Chairman believes part of the reason for the increase could be the inability to access other services able to assist their patients.
As well, it could be some doctors feeling pressurised for time, reached for prescription pad far too quickly, than they would, other wise.
Foley believes doctors should be prescribing painkillers with the least strength possible for easing their patients’ pain.
Recent warnings received from Christchurch police, health professionals and drug counsellors indicate the emergence of a new form of heroin made from prescription opioids. Authorities believe crackdowns on methamphetamine and P-precursors has forced drug dealers to diversify.
The Pharmac figures show oxycodone hydrochloride, an opioid has gone from no prescriptions in 2005 to over 100,000 in 2009.
Another opioid, fentanyl was prescribed less than 1,000 times in 2005, but over 5,500 times last year.
Prescriptions for drugs containing codeine have almost doubled, with 600,000 last year compared with 310,000 in 2005.
Eileen Varley, the Chairwoman of the National Association of Opioid Treatment Providers said there was a huge level of concern about rising opioid use.
Methadone programmes set up to help street users with opioid addictions were now being used by people addicted to pain medication. Pain patients now made up about half of opioid addicts, and were experiencing the same changes in their body and psychology as heroin addicts.
This could be due to pharmaceutical companies successfully marketing opioid painkillers to doctors.
Chris Atkinson, Medical Director of the Cancer Society said cancer patients could be prescribed up to 700 milligrams of morphine sulphate a day, which was worth $700 on the street. And sometimes, drugs were diverted to the black market, usually by a member of a patient’s family.
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