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Trends in fentanyl prescriptions and fentanyl-related mortality in Australia


  • Amanda Roxburgh BA Hons (Psych) MCrim MPsych (Clinical), Senior Researcher Epidemiology, Lucy Burns PhD, MPH, Grad Cert Health Policy, Senior Lecturer Epidemiology, Olaf H. Drummer PhD, Head Forensic Scientific Services, Jennifer Pilgrim BSc (Hons), PhD, Research Officer, Michael Farrell MB, BCh, BAO, LRCP&SI Honours in Medicine, MRCP, MRCPsych, Director, Louisa Degenhardt MPsych (Clinical), PhD, Professor Epidemiology.

Correspondence to Ms Amanda Roxburgh, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia. Tel: +61 (2) 9385 0333; Fax: +61 (2) 9385 0222; E-mail:


Introduction and Aims

The study aims to quantify trends in fentanyl prescribing and fentanyl mortality in Australia within the context of concern among health professionals concerning increasing accessibility of fentanyl, and the harms that may arise as a result.

Design and Methods

This paper presents data on prescribing patterns of fentanyl by 10 year age group adjusted by population rate, detailed analyses of fentanyl-related deaths from the National Coronial Information System and deaths adjusted for prescribing levels within Australia.


Fentany prescriptions have increased and are most prevalent among Australians aged over 80 years. One hundred and thirty-six fentanyl-related deaths were recorded during 2000–2011; 54% of decedents had a history of injecting drug use and, among this group, 95% had injected fentanyl at the time of death; 62% of deaths recorded misuse (most notably injection) of fentanyl; 50% recorded a history of drug dependence and 40% a mental health problem; 37% recorded a history of chronic pain; and 36% recorded fentanyl as being prescribed at the time of death. Deaths were primarily among Australians under 47 years of age.

Discussion and Conclusions

There have been significant increases in fentanyl prescribing in Australia. It is unclear what proportion of this increase represents legitimate treatment of pain. Fentanyl deaths have also increased, although mortality is currently low in Australia. A large proportion of the deaths involved the injection of diverted fentanyl, highlighting the need for messages regarding safer injecting practices targeting people who inject drugs, and strategies to minimise the risks of diversion.