By Hagar Cohen and Tiger Webb
Deaths from the potent prescription drug fentanyl have rapidly increased in Australia, with a senior doctor calling the trend a "national emergency". A report from the National Coronial Information Service (NCIS), commissioned by Background Briefing, shows 498 fentanyl-related deaths occurred between January 2010 and December 2015. This figure marks an 1,800 per cent increase on the previous decade, where NCIS data records 27 fentanyl-related deaths.
The increase reflects data in the United States,where the opioid crisis was recently declared a national emergency. Over 71 per cent of Australia's recorded deaths were men, with the majority of deaths occurring for those aged in their 30s (37.3 per cent) and 40s (29.1 per cent). Bastian Seidel, the president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, said the figures were a "national emergency" and should prompt concern. "Those deaths are entirely avoidable," he said.
Overdose fatalities 'completely unacceptable'
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, roughly 100 times more potent than morphine. Historically used for the treatment of chronic and severe cancer pain, the patch form of fentanyl has been listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme for other types of chronic pain since 2006. Dr Seidel said some GPs, emergency doctors and specialists were overprescribing the opioid, as they wanted to make sure they were not introducing harm. "Certainly, the opioids that are out there now are causing more harm than any good. In some cases they're causing death — and that's completely unacceptable," he said.
Thumbnail: Flickr CC Nils Wommelsdorf