Western Victoria has almost double the rate of prescriptions for the pain relief drug oxycodone than the rest of Australia and researchers are calling for an investigation into whether illicit use is the cause.
A combined research project by Warrnambool’s Deakin and Sydney universities found 3.4 per cent of all prescriptions in the Western Victorian Primary Health Network were for oxycodone, compared with the Australian average of 1.9 per cent.
The research, including work by Warrnambool’s Jessica Beattie and Daryl Pedler, drew a link between the high level of oxycodone use in western Victoria and the high rate of deaths involving illicit use of the drug in rural Victoria.
Rural Victoria had a disproportionately high number (41 per cent) of deaths involving the illicit use of oxycodone considering only 27 per cent of Victorians lived in rural areas.
There had been a 21-fold increase in oxycodone-related deaths between 2000-2009 across Australia.
“Prescription opiods, obtained for illegal use, have been determined to be primarily sourced from non-medical sources, typically through sharing or purchasing from others,” the report said.
The top reasons for prescribing oxycodone in the region were back complaints, general pain and osteoarthritis.
Nearly 60 per cent of those prescriptions were written for women aged over 45 years and more than 53 per cent in western Victoria were Health Card holders.
Researchers are hoping the introduction of the SafeScript program in western Victoria later this year will improve safety for the prescription of oxycodone.
Researcher Jessica Beattie said there had been an increase in deaths from oxycodone and she hoped the SafeScript program would make the prescription of the drug a safer process for both patients and general practitioners.
A spokesperson for health minister Jill Hennessy said too many Victorians had died from the misuse of prescription medicines.
“This is an avoidable tragedy and that’s why we’re getting SafeScript done to fix it,” the spokesperson said.
SafeScript is an online real-time prescription monitoring system to be trialled in western Victoria.
Records of the prescription or dispensing of oxycodone and several other prescribed drugs will be automatically transmitted through Prescription Exchange Services to SafeScript.
This will mean that doctors will have more complete patient records and the necessary prescribing information to make informed decisions for their patients.
The spokesperson for Ms Hennessy said Western Victoria had been chosen as the trial area for the SafeScript program because the Western Victoria Primary Health Network (WVPHN) was leading the consortium contracted to provide the workforce training package for SafeScript.
“So they’re (WVPHN) ideally placed to roll out the package locally and support the workforce as they begin using the system,” the spokesperson said.
Western Victoria’s selection as the trial area was not because of the high use of oxycodone in the region, the spokesperson said.
WVPHN chief executive Dr Leanne Beagley said part of the cause for the high use of oxycodone in western Victoria might be that GPs in rural areas were more likely to be the sole practitioner/prescriber and have limited access pain clinics or other specialist prescribers.
The WPHN area covers an area that includes Warrnambool, Geelong, Ballarat and Horsham through to the South Australian border.