Opioid crisis creeping into Netherlands: new study

In seven years the number of people in the Netherlands who use opioids increased by 55 percent, a new study showed according to Zorgverzekeraars Nederland. The period over which these strong pain killers are used also increased, RTL Nieuws reports.

In 2010 some 650 thousand Dutch used opioids. In 2017 that increased to over a million, according to the Dutch health insurers. Over 218 thousand Dutch took these painkillers for over three months. Of the opioid users in the Netherlands, 60 percent are women and 40 percent men. Older people also use opioids more often than younger people. In most cases it is a doctor who prescribes the medicine. 

These involve painkillers like Tramadol, which is slightly lighter than morphine, and Fentanyl, which is much stronger than morphine. Such pills are not intended for long-term use. Opioids for a period longer than three months are generally only prescribed for terminal cancer patients, according to RTL.

The Dutch association for general practitioners NHG considers the increase in long-term use of strong painkillers a worrying development. The association tightened its guidelines to members last year, to prevent opioids from being prescribed unnecessarily or for an unnecessarily long period.

"As with all other medicines, general practitioners, pharmacists and treating medical specialists have a joint responsibility to inform the patient about the safe use of analgesics", the NHG said, according to the broadcaster.