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OECD: urgent action needed to address growing opioid crisis

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Out of 25 OECD countries for which data are available, the United States, Canada, Sweden, Norway, Ireland, England, and Wales experienced a rise in the average of opioid-related deaths (ORD) of more than 20% from 2011-2016.

These findings are highlighted in the May 2019 OECD release: Addressing Problematic Opioid Use in OECD Countries, which calls for governments to take urgent action to combat the rise of ORD.

In Canada, for example, there were more than ten thousand opioid-related deaths between January 2016 and September 2018, with rates increasing from 8.4 per 100,000 people to 11.8 over this period. Opioid abuse has also put a growing burden on health services through hospitalization and emergency room visits.

European men are in the majority for ORD with 3 out of 4 deaths; however, opioid use has been rising among pregnant women in the United States, particularly among those on low incomes.

Those with mental disorders saw a two-fold greater use of prescription opioids in the US. Prisoners too are vulnerable. The prevalence rate of opioid use disorders in Europe was less than 1% among the general public but averaged 30% in the prison population.

Social and economic conditions, such as unemployment and housing, have also contributed to the epidemic. An increase in prescription and over-prescription of opioids for pain management is also among the factors driving the crisis.

The OECD report urges governments to review industry regulations so people are protected from harm caused by manufacturers who have consistently downplayed the problematic effect of opioids since the late 1990s.

Coverage for long-term medication-assisted therapy, such as methadone and buprenorphine, should be expanded, in coordination with harm minimization specialized services for infectious diseases management, such as HIV and hepatitis. Doctors should also improve their prescribing practices, such as through evidence-based clinical guidelines and increased surveillance of opioid prescriptions. Governments can also regulate marketing and financial relationships with opioid manufacturers.

Strengthening the integration of health and social services, such as unemployment and housing support, and criminal justice systems would help improve treatment for people with Opioid Use Disorder.

The entire report can be downloaded here.

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