Background: Opioid prescribing is controversial with evidence of both significant under-utilization and over-utilization. There is some evidence to support efficacy for chronic non-malignant pain, but community and individual harms are increasingly reported.
Aims: To review availability of opioid preparations and prescription patterns of opioids through the subsidized Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in Australia from 1992 to 2007.
Methods: Interrogation of the Health Insurance Commission database from 1992 to 2007. Item numbers for all available opioid preparations were identified, and frequency of dispensing was collected and collated.
Results: The number of opioids on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) increased from 11 preparations of four medications to 70 preparations of eight medications during this period. The total number of PBS opioid prescriptions increased from 2 397 006 in 1992 to 6 998 556 in 2007. We identified a dramatic and continuing increase in prescription of oxycodone in all dose ranges. Fentanyl prescribing is increasing to a lesser degree. Morphine and tramadol prescribing appears to have plateaued.
Conclusion: Opioid use is increasing. There is a pressing need for co-ordinated assessment of efficacy and harms to facilitate quality usage of opioids.