Opioids crisis has spread beyond United States: OECD

PARIS (Reuters) - Opioid use has reached crisis proportions not only in the United States but also in Canada and some European countries, as prescription opioid painkillers have become much more common, the OECD club of wealthy nations said on Thursday.

So far the opioid epidemic has focused largely on the United States, where the OECD said nearly 400,000 people died of overdoses between 1999 and 2017, resulting in the lowering of overall life expectancy for the first in more than 60 years.

“The United States is by no means alone in facing this crisis,” the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said in a report.

The Paris-based policy forum said deaths linked to opioid use were also rising sharply in Sweden, Norway, Ireland, and England and Wales.

Canada reported more than 10,000 opioid-related deaths between January 2016 and September 2018, with rates increasing from 8.4 per 100,000 people to 11.8 over the period, the OECD said. Between 2011 and 2016, opioid-related deaths rose more than 20% in 25 member countries for which the OECD had data as opioid pain-relief drugs have become more common.

“Opioid over-prescribing is considered one of the most important root causes of the crisis,” the OECD said in the report.

“The influence of pharmaceutical manufacturers on pain management has been considered significant, by conducting marketing campaigns targeted mainly at physicians and patients, downplaying the problematic effect of opioids,” it added.

The OECD said that good regulation was critical because some countries, like Germany, Austria, Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands, had managed to make prescription opioid painkillers more available without leading to higher overdose death rates.

Reporting by Leigh Thomas, Editing by William Maclean