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Investment in physio needed to address opioid overdoses

The federal government must invest properly in evidence-based physiotherapy to effectively address Australia’s overdose crisis, a member body has urged.

Australia’s Annual Overdose Report 2019, released by the Penington Institute earlier this week, found that the number of deaths owing to unintentional drug overdose in Australia had increased 38 per cent between 2001 and 2017 and is growing by 3.4 per cent each year.

It further noted that more than half of all unintentional drug overdoses in 2017 involved some form of opioid, in many cases oxycodone or codeine, which are commonly used for chronic pain management.

The release of the report prompted the Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) to call on the government to ensure meaningful investment in evidence-based physio pain management services.

APA national president Phil Calvert said that the government must invest in true multidisciplinary pain management services – physiotherapy in particular – to avert the health crisis and stop these unnecessary deaths.

“We have a clear health problem in our community, which we have already seen lead to devastating consequences in North America. We need a complete rethink of how we tackle the issue of chronic pain management. We know opioid use doesn’t make people well, it simply masks their underlying problem,” he said.

“Physiotherapy as part of a multidisciplinary approach is proven to be beneficial in managing and reducing chronic pain conditions, but the government needs to get on board now.

The health system must fund services that work, Mr Calvert continued, which put the patient at the centre of their health choices and educates them about how best to manage and overcome their pain conditions.

“For too long, we have seen federal funding go towards medicines to manage complex chronic pain conditions. It simply hasn’t worked. If we’re really going to get serious about this, we need to put the funding where it works best, and that’s in multidisciplinary pain management services,” he posited.

“Physiotherapists who specialise in chronic pain must have their treatment subsidised via the MBS. It’s the best way to support the growing number of Australians across all demographics whose increasing reliance on opioids for their pain is leading to overdoses and, tragically, death in too many cases.”

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