In 2013–14, nearly 14 million prescriptions were dispensed through the PBS for opioids – medicines that relieve moderate to severe pain.

These medicines are very effective in relieving acute pain and cancer pain, and in palliative care. However, studies have shown they are also being prescribed for chronic non-cancer pain. Current evidence does not support the long term efficacy and safety of opioid therapy for chronic non‑cancer pain.

The number of prescriptions dispensed was more than 10 times higher in the area with the highest rate compared to the area with the lowest rate. However, even when the areas with the lowest and highest rates were excluded considerable variation was still seen in prescribing (2.9 times more in the areas with the highest rates than in the areas with lowest rates). No apparent explanation is available for this, although differences in access to alternative pain management options may be a factor.

In 2013–14, there were 13,905,258 PBS prescriptions dispensed for opioid medicines. The number of prescriptions was 10.1 times higher in the area with the highest rate compared to the area with the lowest rate.