Health policies and data




Opioids use has dramatically increased in some OECD countries, both of prescribed and illicit opioids. This has led to a sharp upsurge in addiction and overdose deaths, with serious social and economic consequences.

In this scenario, the OECD is analysing the opioids epidemic and exploring several policy strategies that can help countries address the issue.



Opioids are a type of narcotic pain medication that have become the cornerstone therapy for the treatment of moderate to severe pain in many developed countries. The misuse and abuse of opioids might lead to opioid tolerance (the need to take higher and higher dosages of drugs to achieve the same opioid effect), drug dependence (the need to keep taking drugs to avoid a withdrawal syndrome) and addiction (intense drug craving and compulsive use). Higher doses of opioids can lead to an opioid intoxication resulting in drowsiness, slowed respiration, low blood pressure, which in the end can produce an overdose death.

Opioid analgesic prescribing has increased dramatically in the past years in countries such as the United States and Canada, and many patients are being treated using opioids for chronic non-malignant pain. In parallel, the use of illicit opioids has also increased, both of diverted pharmaceutical opioids (e.g. oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine) and of illicitly-produced opioids (e.g. heroin, fentanyl). This scenario has rapidly escalated the use of healthcare services, for instance, of emergency consultations and hospitalisations, and has mounted the number of overdose deaths to alarming numbers.This has created the so-called ‘opioid crisis’, which is strongly affecting Canada and the United States. In addition, other OECD countries such as Australia and some European countries, have also began to experience raising trends of opioids consumption and overdose deaths.


The average availability of prescription analgesic opioids, defined as the amounts that each country’s competent national authority estimates are used annually, has been steadily growing in the past 15 years

Mean availability of analgesic opioids in OECD countries 2011-13 and 2014-16. S-DDDs per million inhabitants per day


Note: Analgesic opioids include codeine, dextropropoxyphene, dihydrocodeine, fentanyl, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, morphine, ketobemidone, oxycodone, pethidine, tilidine and trimeperidine. It does NOT include illicit opioids.
Information on data for Israel.
Source: INCB, 2018. Available in Addressing Problematic Opioid Use in OECD Countries, OECD, Paris, May 2019.




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