Opioid Abuse Among Young People Growing More Common

Opioid abuse among individuals 25 years old and younger has grown more common, according to Dr. Valgerður Rúnarsdóttir, the Medical Director of SÁÁ (the National Centre of Addiction Medicine). Valgerður addressed the audience at a conference at the Hilton Nordica hotel yesterday, Mbl.is reports.

A “New Opioid Crisis”

Speaking to Iceland Review last month, Dr. Valgerður Rúnarsdóttir, the Medical Director of SÁÁ (National Centre of Addiction Medicine) stated that talk of a “new opioid crisis” in Iceland was not an exaggeration.

Referring to the data, Valgerður noted that between 2010 and 2022, the percentage of patients being treated for opioid addiction at the Vogur detox centre and rehabilitation hospital rose by approximately 200% (from 10.3% to ca. 30% of the clinic’s patients). Furthermore, these patients are twice as likely to relapse than others, and thirty-five of those who have sought treatment over the past five years have died.

Read More: In Harm’s Way: Harm Reduction in the Age of Opioids

Yesterday, Valgerður addressed the audience at a conference held by SÁÁ and FÁR (the Association of Alcohol and Drug Advisors) at the Hilton Nordica hotel in Reykjavík between November 2 and 3. According to her lecture, prescription opioid abuse – including opioids like Contalgin, Oxycontin, and Fentanyl – among individuals 25 and younger has grown more common.

Although opioid abuse is on the rise, alcohol is still the most commonly abused intoxicant in Iceland. Speaking to Mbl.is, Valgerður noted that the problems were “of a different nature” when individuals are abusing potent prescription drugs.

Valgerður also noted that the percentage of working individuals who are admitted to the Vogur rehabilitation centre has declined to 30%. Given this, it was important that the Icelandic Vocational Rehabilitation Fund (VIRK) no longer mandates a 3-6 month sober period as a condition for entering into vocational rehabilitation.

The aforementioned conference was the first to be sponsored jointly by SÁÁ and FÁR. Valgerður told Mbl.is that many parties, including VIRK, FÁR, SÁÁ, and municipal authorities, are determined to work together to combat substance abuse in Iceland.

Opioid Admissions to Detox Centre on the Rise

The Vogur detox centre and rehabilitation hospital has seen a steady rise in admissions due to opioids. Vísir reports that a recent survey conducted by National Centre of Addiction Medicine (SÁÁ) found the supply of opioids in Iceland has increased in recent years and police seized large quantities of OxyContin last year, a situation that has doctors at Vogur particularly concerned.

The percentage of patients admitted to Vogur for opioid addiction has gone up from 22.5% to 27.3% in the last three years. In 2011, the percentage of admissions for opioids was just 10.3%.

Proscribed use of OxyContin has also gone up significantly, even though doctors have more awareness of the risks the drug poses for addiction. At the beginning of 2022, there were 3,500 people registered with OxyContin prescriptions in Iceland. Ten years ago, there were only 500. Ragnheiður Hulda Friðriksdóttir, quality control manager and assistant to the director of Vogur, says that steps are being taken to reduce the number of patients proscribed with the drug, as well as limit its distribution among nonprescription users.

“There are, of course, plenty of people who need these medications, but it’s also common knowledge that people sell medication they don’t need. I know the Icelandic Medicine Agency and the Directorate of Health have been enacting various measures to cut back on this,” stated Ragnheiður Hulda Friðriksdóttir, director of quality control and assistant to the director of Vogur.

Suðurnes Police have seized ever-larger quantities of black-market OxyContin in recent years, but there is strong indication that the drug is widely available to non-prescription users. SÁÁ conducts an annual survey on the price of various narcotics. There has been no noticeable increase in the price of OxyContin in five years, which indicates that the supply is stable and has even gotten bigger in recent years.

The most important thing remains access to treatment, says Ragnheiður Hulda. “That and a limit on access to [opioids] such that they are only proscribed when absolutely necessary. So it’s important that we think about how to wean people off them when they are prescribed.”

Ragnheiður Hulda concluded by saying that Vogur needs additional funds from the Icelandic Health Insurance Office to support the treatment of patients with opioid addiction. The current funding supports the treatment of 90 patients.