Oxycodone-related ambulance presentations are more likely to be women

23 Dec 2020

A new study by researchers from Monash University & Turning Point has shown that women and people with mental health issues are more likely to require attendance by an ambulance for oxycodone misuse.

Using data from Turning Point’s National Ambulance Surveillance System (NASS), the study, led by Associate Professor Suzanne Nielsen from the Monash Addiction Research Centre, analysed records relating to extramedical oxycodone use in Victoria from 2013-2018 and found characteristics of oxycodone presentations in Australian ambulance attendances appear to be changing over time.

These changes revealed that females made up more than half of all overdose presentations (56.4 per cent) but also showed there has been an increase in alcohol use, extramedical use of non-opioid pharmaceuticals and suicidal thoughts or behaviours and a decrease in heroin involvement. The increase in female presentations is consistent with more common opioid prescribing for women, and a strong link between depression and non-medical use of opioids in females, highlighting the broader issue that treatment services may not be responding to the needs of women, and that targeted strategies are needed to reduce harms.

In response to concerns around oxycodone-related harms, a range of measures have already been implemented, including the introduction of tamper-resistant oxycodone formulations, prescription monitoring programs, and prescribing guidelines.

Previous research has shown that unlike other prescription opioids, rates of harms from oxycodone appear to be increasing, despite these changes.

“Responses to overdose have largely focused on accidental overdose, and most opioid treatment services see predominantly males with opioid problems. We need to think about how we can better serve the needs of women experiencing problems with opioids,” Associate Professor Nielsen said.

“This comprehensive study on oxycodone-related harms shows that the at-risk population is changing, and our responses must change.”

“We aimed to explore what factors might be driving this increasing oxycodone-related harm.”

“The findings suggest the nature of oxycodone-related presentations are shifting, from traditional illicit opioid-related presentations, to involve a more complex range of other substances and mental health symptoms.”

Oxycodone is an opioid medication that is widely prescribed in Australia and is used for the treatment of moderate to severe pain and has been associated with increasing rates of harm. Between 2000 and 2015, Oxycodone was responsible for 21 per cent of single-opioid deaths.