Editorial: Bay use of pain reliever a worry

By Dylan Thorne

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Mt Maunganui GP Tony Farrell.
Mt Maunganui GP Tony Farrell.

The emergence of a powerful painkiller twice as potent as morphine on the black market raises serious questions for the health system.

As reported in the Bay of Plenty Times yesterday, oxycodone, also known as "hillbilly heroin", is a synthetic opiate often prescribed for pain relief associated with fractures and cancer.

The drug is now the number one cause of overdose in the United States, ahead of heroin and cocaine. It is as addictive as morphine yet thousands of prescriptions are being doled out to Bay patients each year.

According to the Best Practice Journal, the use of oxycodone in New Zealand increased by 249 per cent between 2008-2012. It has been subsidised by Pharmac since 2005.

Figures released by the Ministry of Health show 13,964 prescriptions were written in the Bay of Plenty for oxycodone in the 2013 financial year, down from 14,606 the previous year.

Tauranga drug counsellor Jill Knowler says the drug is easy to access and doctors are sometimes not doing followups and background for addiction.

The drug has also made its way on to the black market and some believe one avenue is through "doctor shopping".

Mount Maunganui GP Tony Farrell says oxycodone initially had been marketed as a painkiller for a wide range of ailments.

He expressed concern that, given the potency of the drug, it was marketed as a painkiller for moderate conditions.

It seems that - with more than 10,000 prescriptions in the Bay of Plenty alone - the drug could still be being over-prescribed.

The Ministry of Health should have this issue on its radar.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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