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Opioid overdose deaths 'rising sharply' in England and Wales, OECD says

Deaths from opioid overdose are “rising sharply” in England and Wales as part of a continuing global crisis, according to analysis by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

According to the ‘Addressing Problematic Opioid Use in OECD Countries’ report, published on 16 May 2019, over-prescription of pain killers by doctors and an illicit drugs trade are fuelling the “mounting health and social crisis”.

The sharp increase in opioid overdose deaths in England and Wales has been matched in the United States, Canada, Sweden, Norway and Ireland. Opioid-related death rates in these countries increase by more than the average 20% rise in the 25 OECD countries with the available data surveyed between 2011 and 2016.

Men accounted for 75% of the deaths, according to the report.

In the United States, there was a two-fold increased use of prescription opioids in people with mental health issues, the report revealed. In Europe, 30% of the prison population had an opioid use disorder compared to just 1% of the general population.

The report identified opioid overprescribing as one of the most important root causes of the current opioid crisis, and said that prescription monitoring and regulation to ensure appropriate use of medical opioids was “critical.”

However, higher rates of prescribed opioids have not led to higher overdose rates in Germany, Austria, Belgium, Denmark or the Netherlands, the analysis found.

The report said: “This suggests that an appropriate use and regulatory environment for prescription opioids can be compatible with having a higher availability of these drugs for medical use.”

Drug manufacturers have also contributed to the crisis by conducting marketing campaigns targeting physicians and patients “downplaying the problematic effect of opioids”, it stated.

The report called for improved prescribing practice and evidence-based clinical guidelines; better long-term care and support for people who have abused opioids; joined-up healthcare, social care and law enforcement strategies to address the crisis; more research to inform policy decisions; and a new “quality of care measurement for opioid prescription”.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2019.20206561

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