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Yes, people can die from opiate withdrawal

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It is generally thought that opiate withdrawal is unpleasant but not life-threatening, but death can, and does, occur. The complications of withdrawal are often underestimated and monitored inadequately.

The opioid withdrawal syndrome is often characterised as a flu-like illness, subjectively severe but objectively mild. Signs and symptoms include dysphoria, insomnia, pupillary dilation, piloerection, yawning, muscle aches, lacrimation, rhinorrhea, nausea, fever, sweating, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Prisons need better drug treatment programs to control infectious diseases

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Worldwide, around 30 million people enter and leave prison each year. Of these people, around 4.5 million have hepatitis C, almost 1 million have HIV and 1.5 million have hepatitis B infections.

In many countries, prisons are underfunded and overcrowded, and injecting drug use is common. Those who enter prison uninfected are at risk of becoming infected, as few countries provide the range of prevention programs required to halt transmission inside.

Powerful opioid fentanyl poses serious risk of fatal overdose

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The death of Prince and the NSW Coroner’s comments on 13 deaths among injecting drug users in a month, suspected to be related to heroin has sparked media interest in fentanyl. NDARC’s Director Michael Farrell spoke to several media outlets about the drug.

“Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more concentrated than morphine,” says Professor Farrell. “It’s very difficult for people to know just how much they are extracting from the patch and injecting. It is already a very powerful opioid and people are injecting it without being able to control how much.

Researcher engagement with people who use drugs

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The voices of drug users are essential to research and the drug policy debate, argue Professor Alison Ritter and colleagues, and it became most evident at the recent Parliamentary Drug Summit which brought together a range of clinicians, researchers and policy advocates as well as people representing those who use drugs. “When these voices spoke, we were reminded that people who use drugs are not statistics or a ‘problem to be addressed’, but rather that “we are your family members, your friends, your colleagues – not some collateral damage”.”

High mortality among heroin users – what we can do to reduce the years of life lost?

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Professor Shane Darke examined death in the Australian Treatment Outcome Study of heroin users and found that mortality rates were very high at 1% per annum, and each death was associated with an average of 44 years of potential life lost. Accidental overdose and suicide accounted for three quarters of years of life lost. Given the prominent role of overdose and suicide, Professor Darke argues that the majority of these fatalities appear preventable.

Young Australians are drinking a lot less while older Australians are drinking more

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New research from the University of New South Wales, La Trobe University and the Burnet Institute in Melbourne analysed five sets of data from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey from 2001 and found that Australians under the age of 30 are the main drivers of a decline in Ausralia's alcohol consumption, while drinking among older Australians has increased.

Development of Patient Reported Outcome Measures (PROMs) in Addiction Science

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How can we measure outcomes focusing on the patient perspective in addiction science? Professor Joanne Neale gives an overview of her work developing Patient Reported Outcome Measures (PROMs) to assess health status or health-related quality of life, focusing on the patient perspective. PROMs can be generic (e.g. the SF-36) or condition specific (e.g. the Beck Depression Inventory). They are widely used and accepted across a range of health fields, but less commonly used in the addictions.

Australia’s recreational drug policies aren’t working, so what are the options for reform?

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In early March 2016, a parliamentary drug summit, convened by the Australian Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy and Law Reform, debated drug policy reform in Australia.

NDARC Professor Alison Ritter, head of the Drug Policy Modelling Program (DPMP), and Nicole Lee, Associate Professor at the National Drug Research Institute (NDRI), Curtin University write about the different options for reform, their possible effects and the views of the Australian public on the issue.

Hurt people who hurt people: The destructive cycle of trauma, substance use and violence

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Violence is a major global public health concern and a leading cause of injury, disability, and mortality worldwide. Two salient factors linked to violence perpetration are posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance use disorder (SUD) – conditions that are also likely to co-occur. Dr Emma Barrett writes about her research to develop effective psychological treatments to reduce violence in people with co-occurring PTSD and SUD.