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What are opioids?

Opioids are a class of drugs, of which heroin (diacetylmorphine) is a member, that include the natural products of the opium poppy, and synthetic compounds derived from it.

There are a range of pharmaceutical opioids used non-medically in Australia that have similar effects in the body to heroin. These include pain medications such as oxycodone and morphine. The number of people seeking treatment for addiction to opioids other than heroin has been increasing in Australia. The side effects seen are also similar to those for heroin, including overdose. Pharmaceutical opioids can be taken orally or injected for the euphoric feelings that they cause.

How many people use opioids?

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) conducts a National Drug Strategy Household Survey every three years. The data collected by the survey provides detailed information on alcohol, tobacco and other drug use within Australia, as well as community attitudes to drug use. The survey covers both legal and illegal drugs.

The 2016 survey showed that nearly 5% of Australians reported using an analgesic or ‘pain killer’ non-medically in the past 12 months. Overall misuse of pharmaceuticals appears to have been on the increase since 2007.

For the latest survey results, visit the AIHW website and go to the National Drug Strategy Household Survey page: