Fewer Australians under 30 are receiving pharmacotherapy treatment for dependence on opioid drugs such as heroin, morphine or codeine, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
The report, National opioid pharmacotherapy statistics annual data collection 2012, suggests an ageing population of clients in pharmacotherapy treatment.
It shows that on a snapshot day in June 2012 almost 47,000 Australians received pharmacotherapy treatment for their opioid dependence.
'Of these, the proportion of clients aged less than 30 halved compared with the proportion in 2006-down from 28% to 13%-while the proportion of clients aged 50 and over doubled-from 8% to 18%,' said AIHW spokesperson Amber Jefferson.
'The overall number of clients receiving pharmacotherapy has doubled since 1998-up from around 25,000 people to almost 47,000 in 2012.
'However, growth in client numbers has slowed in recent years-to less than 1% a year from 2010 to 2012.'
Treatment with an opioid pharmacotherapy drug can reduce drug cravings, improve physical and mental health and reduce drug related crime. Methadone continues to be the pharmacotherapy drug most commonly prescribed (68%), followed by buprenorphine (32%).
'In recent years, we've seen a change in the way in which buprenorphine is prescribed, with naloxone added to deter injection of the medication,' Ms Jefferson said.
Among all pharmacotherapy clients, the proportion receiving just buprenorphine dropped from 23% to 13% between 2006 and 2012, while the proportion receiving buprenorphine combined with naloxone rose from 6% to 19% over the same period.
Around two-thirds (65%) of clients receiving pharmacotherapy in June 2012 were male.
Almost 1 in 10 (9%) clients identified as Indigenous, almost 3 times their representation in the population as a whole.
In 2012, there were 1,768 prescribers of opioid pharmacotherapy in Australia, an increase of 14% from 2011.
'On average, each prescriber treated fewer clients, with the ratio of clients per prescriber falling from 30 in 2011 to 26 in 2012,' Ms Jefferson said.
The majority of prescribers worked in the private sector (82%).
Most clients need to attend a dosing point regularly to take their opioid pharmacotherapy drug under supervision. Most of these dosing points were located in pharmacies and in urban areas.
The AIHW is a major national agency set up by the Australian Government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia's health and welfare.