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Drug Alcohol Rev. 2011 May;30(3):315-23. doi: 10.1111/j.1465-3362.2011.00294.x.

Increasing the benefits and reducing the harms of prescription opioid analgesics.

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  • 1Byrne Surgery, Redfern, Australia, South Western Sydney Local Health Network, Sydney, Australia.



Consumption of prescription opioid analgesics (POAs) in Australia has increased steadily in recent years, raising concerns of increasing harms including overdose and dependence, as has occurred in the USA.


Exposition of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians Prescription Opioid Policy with reference to the published literature, drawing out principles for harm reduction for psychoactive pharmaceutical drugs.


Complex professional, patient, regulatory and market factors influence health professionals balancing the benefits and harms of POAs. Owing to the potential for diversion, overlapping markets probably exist for pharmaceutical opioids used for populations with cancer pain, chronic non-cancer pain, and people dependent on pharmaceutical and illicit opioids (including those needing opioid substitution treatment). Attempts to reduce or restrict supply in one area may increase demand in others. There is a need to consider new harm reduction strategies for people with problematic pharmaceutical opioid use. These people are demographically not well characterised, and may be distinct from the more familiar population of injection drug users.


Harm reduction is a valid approach for POAs. However, the role of health professionals as gatekeepers of opioid supply, the need to optimise health benefits of POAs, and the likely interplay of complex market forces among populations consuming opioids have no close parallel in harm reduction for other substances. This poses fundamentally different challenges.


Reducing inappropriate supply and demand for POAs while maximising their benefits and minimising their harms may improve health outcomes.

© 2011 Australasian Professional Society on Alcohol and other Drugs.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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