More Norwegians now die of pharmaceutical opioid overdoses than heroin overdoses

According to a study by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, more people now die from an overdose of strong painkillers containing opioids than from an overdose of heroin.

The increase occurred during the same period when opioid prescribing policies in Norway were liberalized and increasing numbers of people were prescribed such opioids. This is according to a study by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH).

In 2010, 30% of drug overdose deaths in Norway were due to strong painkillers containing opioids, while 70% of drug overdose deaths were due to heroin. In 2018, this distribution had increased to 60 and 40%.

“We don’t know if those who died were prescribed opioids by doctors, or if they were able to obtain these drugs through other means,” said Linn Gjersing, project leader and principal investigator at NIPH. , in a press release. (link in Norwegian). Gjersing conducted the study in collaboration with his colleague and principal investigator Ellen Amundsen.

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Similar trends in other countries

Gjersin says other countries have seen similar increases in these deaths following changes in prescribing policies, which may indicate that opioids were prescribed by doctors.

“But it can also mean that people who have been prescribed opioids in Norway are selling them on the illegal market, and those who are dying are using opioids without a prescription,” says Gjersing.

Can be smuggled from abroad

Another possible explanation according to the researchers could be the increase in imports from abroad, in other words smuggling. The increase in overdoses caused by these opioid medications could therefore simply have happened by chance at the same time that prescribing policies changed. The researchers will explore these questions further in another study.

Between 2010 and 2018, a total of 616 people died from different opioids, while 651 people died from heroin overdose in Norway.

The study was recently published in the International Journal of Drug Policy.

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Translated by: Ida Irene Bergstrøm

Read the Norwegian version of this article on forskning.no

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More Norwegians now die of pharmaceutical opioid overdoses than heroin overdoses

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