New Australian research has revealed concerning levels of oxycodone in western Victoria, with experts calling for investigation on whether illicit use of the medication is the cause.

Oxycodone is the most commonly prescribed drug in western Victoria, despite the fact that it is not used to treat the most common conditions in this area, the newly released short report revealed.

Researchers from Deakin University and the University of Sydney found that 3.4% of all prescriptions in the Western Victorian Primary Health Network were for oxycodone, compared with the Australian average of 1.9%.

The high levels of oxycodone use can’t be explained by ageing populations or higher rates of cancer treatment, they said, instead suggesting illicit use may be to blame.

“Oxycodone prescription habits in this predominantly rural cohort requires further investigation to determine if illicit use of oxycodone is a possible explanation for the higher prescription rates,” the authors said.

They took account of the ageing population and increasing cancer rates, reasons given as contributing factors to the 13-fold increase nationally in oxycodone prescriptions since 1999.

“The WVPHN GPs did not see a higher proportion of older patients; therefore, the ageing population does
not explain the differences in prescribing rates,” the authors said.

“Only 5.1% of oxycodone prescriptions… were for the management of a malignant neoplasm, indicating WVPHN GPs are not prescribing oxycodone for cancer management at a higher rate than Australia and Victoria”.

Given these findings, illicit use needed to be considered as a key reason for the prescribing imbalance, they said.

“Geographical differences in the illicit use of oxycodone have been identified, with a disproportionate number of deaths in rural Victoria (41%), especially considering only 27% of Victorians live in rural areas”.

Prescription rates for oxycodone within the WVPHN general practices were not aligned with the most common problems that were managed. Hypertension was the most common problem that was managed, followed by depression, prevention immunisation, acute upper respiratory tract infection and diabetes.

The top five reasons for prescribing oxycodone in the region were back complaints (24.9%), general pain
(14.1%), osteoarthritis (8.3%), prescription all, which includes change in dosage and script renewal (4.3%) and fracture (4%).

The patients who were prescribed oxycodone were primarily women (57.9%), aged between
25 and 64 years old (63.6%) and were Commonwealth Health Care Card (CHCC) holders (72%).

The report was published in the Australian Journal of Rural Health

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