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Home > Quantifying the social costs of pharmaceutical opioid misuse & illicit opioid use to Australia in 2015/16.

Whetton, Steve and Tait, Robert J and Chrzanowska, Agata and Donnelly, Neill and McEntee, Alice and Mukhtar, Aquif and Zahra, Emma and Campbell, Gabrielle and Degenhardt, Louisa and Dey, Tania and Abdul Halim, Suraya and Hall, Wayne and Makate, Marshall and Norman, Richard and Peacock, Amy and Roche, Ann and Allsop, Steve [NCETA] . (2020) Quantifying the social costs of pharmaceutical opioid misuse & illicit opioid use to Australia in 2015/16. Perth, WA: National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University. 198 p.

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In recent decades the range and patterns of opioids used for extra-medical purposes have changed. The use of pharmaceutical opioids exceeds the use of heroin. In 2017, 63 percent of opioid deaths were attributed exclusively to pharmaceutical opioids, 28 percent to illicit opioids and 8 percent to both illicit and pharmaceutical opioids (aged 15-64 years). The extra-medical use of opioids is also likely to result in other adverse outcomes including those that: require the use of health services; reduce work productivity; or, result in contact with the criminal justice system. 

The objective of this report was to estimate the social costs arising from extra-medical opioid use in Australia for the financial year 2015/16. Due to data limitations in most cases we only estimated the costs occurring in this 12 month period. For example, on-going care of chronic conditions was not included. The exceptions to this were for certain harms which occurred in 2015/16 but which had longer-term ramifications, for example premature deaths, where discounted streams of future costs (lost economic activity and lost contributions to household chores) and partially offsetting savings (future health expenditure ’avoided’ by premature deaths) were estimated. We also included the long-term costs of road traffic accidents, as were the expected future costs of opioid attributable imprisonment for those sentenced in 2015/16.

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