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Trends in morphine prescriptions, illicit morphine use and associated harms among regular injecting drug users in Australia

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-16, 18:04 authored by Degenhardt, L, Black, E, Breen, C, Raimondo BrunoRaimondo Bruno, Kinner, S, Roxburgh, A, Fry, C, Jenkinson, R, Ward, J, Fetherston, J, Weekley, J, Fischer, J
This paper examines population trends in morphine prescriptions in Australia, and contrasts them with findings from annual surveys with regular injecting drug users (IDU). Data on morphine prescriptions from 1995 to 2003 were obtained from the Drug Monitoring System (DRUMS) run by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Data collected from regular IDU as part of the Australian Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS) were analysed (2001-2004). The rate of morphine prescription per person aged 15-54 years increased by 89% across Australia between 1995 and 2003 (from 46.3 to 85.9 mg per person). Almost half (46%) of IDU surveyed in 2004 reported illicit morphine use, with the highest rates in jurisdictions where heroin was less available. Recent morphine injectors were significantly more likely to be male, unemployed, out of treatment and homeless in comparison to IDU who had not injected morphine. They were also more likely to have injected other pharmaceutical drugs and to report injection related problems. Among those who had injected morphine recently, the most commonly reported injecting harms were morphine dependence (38%), difficulty finding veins into which to inject (36%) and scarring or bruising (27%). Morphine use and injection is a common practice among regular IDU in Australia. In some cases, morphine may be a substitute for illicit heroin; in others, it may be being used to treat heroin dependence where other pharmacotherapies, such as methadone and buprenorphine, are perceived as being unavailable or undesirable by IDU. Morphine injection appears to be associated with polydrug use, and with it, a range of problems related to drug injection. Further research is required to monitor and reduce morphine diversion and related harms by such polydrug injectors. © Australasian Professional Society on Alcohol and Other Drugs.


Publication title

Drug and Alcohol Review










School of Psychological Sciences


Taylor & Francis

Place of publication

NSW, Australia

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Public health (excl. specific population health) not elsewhere classified

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