Double the number of Australians now being treated for heroin addiction

The latest report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) shows in the last decade the number of Australians being treated for heroin, or other opioid, addiction has almost doubled.

According to the National Opioid Pharmacotherapy Statistics Annual Data Collection Report for 2008, more than 41,300 people were listed as being on methadone or related detox programs in June last year, as against 24,600 in June 1998.

The report released by the AIHW provides information and statistics about the characteristics of those being treated for opioid drug dependence, the different types of treatments and medication dispensing arrangements.

The author of the report Amber Jefferson says from 2005 to 2007 numbers remained relatively stable at around 39,000 people being treated, but this rose to 41,347 in 2008 and there was an increase in the number clients in 2008 compared with each of the previous three years.

Jefferson says the proportion of male clients has remained the same at about two thirds - of the 41,347 clients being treated nationally, approximately 27,500 were male and as in previous years, about 65% of clients received treatment from a private prescriber and prescribers in the public and corrections sectors also remained at similar levels, 27% and 7% respectively.

Ms Jefferson says over 85% of dosing sites were located in pharmacies and both the number of registered prescribers and the number of dosing point sites increased between 2006 and 2008.

According to the report, about 70% of all clients were receiving methadone and the remainder received buprenorphine or buprenorphine/naloxone and the proportion of clients receiving the combination drug increased between 2006 and 2008.

Ms Jefferson says this combination product is now more commonly used as a treatment for opioid dependence than buprenorphine alone because it is believed the combination reduces the risk of inappropriate use.

The report says the proportion of clients receiving the single buprenorphine product continues to decrease while the proportion of clients receiving methadone has remained relatively stable over the same three year period.

Methadone and buprenorphine are prescribed heroin substitutes - Naloxone reverses the effects of opioids and buprenorphine and the combination treatment prevents withdrawal symptoms.

On a state by state basis top of the league at present when it comes to treatment for heroin, or other opioid addiction, is New South Wales with 42%, followed by Victoria with 29%, Queensland with 12% and Western Australia and South Australia each with 7% of program participants.

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