People who have become dependent on opioid drugs (such as heroin, morphine or codeine) may receive a replacement oral pharmacotherapy drug (such as methadone or buprenorphine) as part of their treatment.

Almost 47,000 Australians received pharmacotherapy treatment for their opioid dependence on a snapshot day in June 2012.

The number of people receiving opioid pharmacotherapy treatment has almost doubled since 1998 (from around 25,000 people), but growth in client numbers has slowed in recent years (to less than 1% a year from 2010 to 2012).

Methadone continues to be the drug most commonly prescribed; however, the form in which buprenorphine is prescribed is changing.

Around two-thirds (68%) of clients received methadone in 2012, with the proportion remaining relatively stable since 2006. The remaining third (32%) received one of two forms of buprenorphine. Of these, the proportion receiving buprenorphine only has fallen (from 23% to 13%) while the proportion receiving buprenorphine combined with naloxone has risen (from 6% to 19%) over the same period. Naloxone is added to buprenorphine to deter injection of the medication.

Opioid pharmacotherapy clients are getting older.

In 2012, around two-thirds (69%) of clients were aged 30 to 49, and this proportion has been fairly consistent since 2006. However, from 2006 to 2012 the proportion of clients aged less than 30 halved (from 28% to 13%), and the proportion of clients aged 50 and over doubled (from 8% to 18%). This suggests an ageing population of clients in pharmacotherapy treatment.

Males and Indigenous people are over-represented in pharmacotherapy treatment.

Around two-thirds (65%) of clients receiving pharmacotherapy in June 2012 were male. Where reported, almost 1 in 10 (9%) clients identified as Indigenous. Indigenous people were almost 3 times as likely to have received pharmacotherapy treatment as the population as a whole.

Prescriber numbers have increased, and most work in the private sector.

There were 1,768 prescribers of opioid pharmacotherapy in Australia in 2012, 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. The majority of prescribers worked in the private sector (82%) and were authorised to prescribe more than one type of pharmacotherapy drug (70%).

Most dosing points were located in pharmacies and in urban areas.

Most clients need to attend a dosing point regularly to take their opioid pharmacotherapy drug under supervision. In 2011-12 there were 2,226 dosing point sites in Australia, and 9 in 10 (88%) were located in pharmacies. The majority of dosing points were located in Major cities (60%) and Inner regional areas (24%), with only 1 in 50 (2%) located in Remote or Very remote areas.