Opioid use in Belgium doubles in 15 years

Opioid use in Belgium doubles in 15 years
Credit: pxhere

The number of Belgians receiving prescription opioids almost doubled between 2005 and 2019. A total of 1,126,167 Belgians (roughly 10% of the population) are prescribed opiate medicine for moderate to severe pain each year, according to statistics from Eurotox.

Tramadol is the most widely prescribed opioid given to patients in Belgium. A synthetic-opiate, it is one of the weaker drugs in the opiate family. The use of the drug has doubled in Belgium. Despite widespread beliefs to the contrary, synthetic opiate tramadol is still habit-forming.

According to Eurotox, 645,992 patients with health insurance received at least one opioid prescription covered under their plan. Belgians are increasingly getting opiate prescriptions under their health insurance. Since 2005, there were 85% more opiate subscriptions covered by health insurance policies.

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The use of tramadol and paracetamol prescriptions, commonly prescribed after minor accidents, has increased almost three-fold since 2005. Stronger opiates, such as oxycodone, are also being prescribed more frequently. There are now 30 times more oxycodone prescriptions than just 15 years ago.

Sudinfo notes that this trend could be explained by Belgium’s ageing population and the prevalence of some chronic diseases.

Unfortunately, opiates are also often subject to abuse. Some people become reliant on prescription medicines to manage their pain. When no longer available, they sometimes find an alternative with illegal narcotics.

According to a 2018 national drug abuse report by Eurotox, around 21% of all people seeking help for substance abuse in Belgium are users of the opioid drug heroin. In 2016, 16,560 Belgians were issued methadone to help treat opioid addiction.

Since 2009, the rate of opioid users entering drug treatment programmes in Belgium has reduced slightly, while there has been an uptake in people seeking treatment for addiction related to cannabis and cocaine.


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