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Prescription Painkillers Leading to Record Levels of Overdose and Addiction: Australia’s Prescription Drug Problem

Chiropractic Moves welcomes Dr Paul Calladine who wrote has written this guest blog for us today.

A recent report published by the Penington Institute, Australia’s Annual Overdose Report 2016 (1), highlights some alarming statistics related to the use, and abuse, of prescription medications. Specifically, painkillers, opioids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for pain management.

The problem is that more people are being harmed by legally prescribed pain medications than illicit drug use. The statistics reveal an ever increasing number of death, overdose and addiction in what health experts have labelled an ‘opioid epidemic.’

Alarming Statistics

The Penington Institute report, drawing on data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, details key metrics relating to overdose deaths in Australia between 2004 and 2014.

  • 61% increase in accidental death due to overdose between 2004 and 2014
  • 69% of drug deaths in 2014 due to prescription medications, not illicit drugs (contrary to popular belief)
  • 78% of all overdose deaths in 2014 in Australia fall between the 30-59 age cohort

Are painkillers effective in treating back and neck pain?

We know that some painkiller prescriptions are issued for musculoskeletal issues such as back and neck pain.

Consider this: would routinely taking a painkiller ever address possible underlying causes of your back pain?

Several research papers have called into question the efficacy of pain medication in treating back and neck pain.

One study concludes “paracetamol is ineffective in the treatment of low back pain” (2) and another study concludes, “opioid analgesics provide modest short-term pain relief but the effect is not likely to be clinically important” (3).

Additionally, adverse events associated with opioid use have been well documented (4).

Chiropractic – a natural approach to health

Chiropractors commonly help back pain, neck pain and other musculoskeletal issues. Chiropractic care offers a natural, drug-free and ‘hands on’ approach to healthcare.

Over 200,000 Australians visit their local chiropractor each week, many for the relief of spinal, postural or chronic pain concerns.

Although the dramatic increase in pain medication use and overdose is an issue for urgent attention, other forms of pain management, such as chiropractic care for back and neck pain, may also have a role to play in better serving healthcare needs.

It’s worth considering.


  1. Penington Institute Australia’s Annual Overdose Report – 2016. Based on data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
  2. Machado GC, Maher CG, Ferreira PH, et al. Efficacy and safety of paracetamol for spinal pain and osteoarthritis: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised placebo controlled trials. BMJ 2015;350:h1225.
  3. Abdel Shaheed C, Maher CG, Williams KA, et al. Efficacy, tolerability, and dose-dependent effects of opioid analgesics for low back pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med 2016;176:958–68.
  4. Prescription Opioid Policy: Improving management of chronic non-malignant pain and prevention of problems associated with prescription opioid use. Sydney: Royal Australasian College of Physicians; 2009.

Michael O'Doherty

Hi, I’m Michael; Chiropractor, Dad, science enthusiast, active weightlifter and keen sportsman. I work with busy and active people who are struggling with pain to find relief from their symptoms so that they can return to an active lifestyle, get through their work day and their workouts without having to pop a pill so that they can feel happier and healthier in their body.