Opioid Use Grows in Brazil and Inappropriate Prescription Leads Patients to Addiction

Addicts seek emergency rooms to receive medication, and hospitals create protocols to prevent abuse

The inappropriate prescription of opioid analgesics for pain control and the increase in patients dependent on these narcotics have worried doctors and raised fears that Brazil could face an "epidemic" of abuse of these substances such as those registered in the United States in recent years. Some studies have already pointed out this risk. In 2019, a Fiocruz drug survey showed that 4.4 million Brazilians had already made illegal use (without a prescription) of an opiate — or 2.9% of the population. The number is three times higher than crack use, experienced by 0.9% of the population throughout their lives. In the case of cocaine, 0.3% of the population has already used the drug.

Another 2018 study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, raised the alarm for the increase in legal use of these drugs. In six years, the sale of prescription painkillers based on opium grew 465%, according to data from the National Health Surveillance Agency (ANVISA).

Codeine, considered a mild opioid and generally indicated for moderate pain, accounts for more than 90% of prescriptions. In the opinion of doctors, the consumption of these drugs increased during the Covid-19 pandemic, but the Brazilian numbers are not yet closed. In the US, overdose deaths, mostly from opioids, passed the 100,000 mark between April 2020 and April 2021, up 28.6% from the same period before. At the request of Folha, Anvisa compiled data on the use of opioids until June 2021. In total, in 2020, 21,785,015 packages of narcotic analgesics were sold. In the first six months of 2021, there were 14,469,642.

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon

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