Australia is in the midst of an opioid crisis. Whilst it may not yet be comparable to the U.S. epidemic on a per capita basis the issue is important enough for the Australian Federal Government to write to 4800 doctors earlier this year urging them to prescribe less opioid painkillers. Opioid prescriptions rose by 24% between 2010–11 and 2014–15, from 369 to 456
prescriptions per 1,000 population according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare which looked at PBS data (1) . Previously available over the counter, even codeine has been removed from shelves unless prescribed. In September, the world renowned McKinsey & Company consulting group released “Why we need bolder action to combat the opioid epidemic” referring to the U.S. situation. The core perspectives from the report include;
- The crisis is likely to worsen
- Intervention across a number of themes is needed
- Innovation is imperative
- Greater investment in innovation is necessary
On October 24th the U.S. signed in the Opioid Crisis Response Act (OCRA). OCRA is about consolidating the many bills designed to address the opioid issue. There is now a new law in the U.S. (HR6) promoting the aggressive adoption of alternate treatments that include “innovative medical technologies for pain management”. In mid-October the U.S. Congress held its first ever briefing on ending opioid with medical technologies and cold laser was the featured technology (2). Cold laser, or as it’s more formally known – low level laser therapy, is an evidence-based modality that has existed for 50 years. It has been used outside of Australia for many decades and is now being adopted by such institutions as Royal Children’s Hospital and the SAN hospital in Sydney. It offers patients a drug-free alternative for pain management and perhaps most importantly potential improvement of the underlying drivers of pain.
As with the United States, until the Australian healthcare system starts to examine evidence-based alternatives to drugs, we as a society, will continue to struggle under the burden of the opioid crisis.