Painkiller prescription rate much higher in Australia: study

Monash University

Thursday, 29 February, 2024

Painkiller prescription rate much higher in Australia: study

Australian aged care residents are far more likely to be taking painkiller medication than residents in some other parts of the world, new research shows.

According to a study from Monash University, in collaboration with Japan’s Institute for Health Economics and Policy, 74% of Australian aged care residents regularly take painkillers. By comparison, only 11% of residents in Japanese facilities are regularly prescribed painkillers.

The study, published in the medical journal Age and Ageing and led by Monash’s Centre for Medicine Use and Safety (CMUS) within the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS), compared painkiller use among two samples of Australian and Japanese residents with the goal to better understand the pharmacological management of pain in residential aged care.

The painkiller medicines in most regular use include oral acetaminophen (paracetamol), non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (eg, ibuprofen) or opioids.

Qualitative data obtained through focus groups with Australian and Japanese healthcare professionals highlighted the differences in therapeutic goals, painkiller regulations and treatment durations between the two countries.

The study’s lead author, Laura Dowd — a pharmacist and CMUS PhD candidate — said these differences may explain the disparities in painkiller use between the respective countries.

“Australian participants described their therapeutic goal was to alleviate pain and reported painkillers were often prescribed on a regular basis, whilst Japanese participants described their therapeutic goal was to minimise impacts of pain on daily activities and reported opioid painkillers were prescribed for short-term durations, corresponding to episodes of pain,” she said.

“Australia and Japan both have rapidly ageing populations but appear to have very different patterns of painkiller use. Understanding these differences can inform new initiatives to improve pain management.”

Senior author and CMUS Research Fellow Dr Amanda Cross said, “This study confirms previous CMUS research that shows up to one-third of Australian residents are prescribed opioid painkiller medicines and highlights key areas where onsite aged care pharmacists could work to support the appropriate use of opioids.”

Dr Shota Hamada from the Institute for Health Economics and Policy in Tokyo said, “Painkillers are one component of an effective pain management strategy. Understanding the different role of painkillers as part of the overall approach to pain management will help the safe and effective painkiller use.”

Image credit: iStock.com/Andrii Zastrozhnov

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