Sean Jennings started taking opioids in 1993 following a complication from a hernia operation that left him in debilitating pain. His GP initially prescribed codeine combined with paracetamol, but the pain persisted. Every day Sean took more and more pills. His GP eventually prescribed stronger opioids than codeine – tramadol, at first, and then morphine. Twenty-five years on, Sean was taking 160mg of morphine every day – a very high dose – but he was still in pain. He was also at high risk of overdosing.
To find out how many people there are like Sean, we conducted a study, synthesising all the published research on high-dose opioids. We found that of 4.2 million people taking prescription opioids in Australia, the UK and the US, over 154,000 were taking high doses. We also found five factors linked to the use of high-dose opioids: being prescribed benzodiazepines (such as Valium), increased visits to emergency departments, depression, unemployment and being male.
Oxford is a subscribing member of The Conversation. Find out how you can write for The Conversation.