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An update on oxycodone: lessons for death investigators in Australia


Oxycodone is one of the most abused prescription drugs. Iatrogenic factors that lead to oxycodone-related death, such as mis-prescribing, present an opportunity for death prevention if identified early. This study investigated deaths involving oxycodone in Australia to explore potentially inappropriate prescribing and the coroner’s investigation. The National Coronial Information System identified cases from 2001 to 2011 where oxycodone was detected by toxicological analysis. There were 806 oxycodone-related deaths, with a significant increase in the 11-year period, from 21 deaths in 2001, up almost sevenfold in 2011 (139 deaths). Most deaths were caused by combined drug toxicity (63.4 %) or oxycodone toxicity alone (11.8 %). Most individuals were male (59.1 %), aged 35–44 years (26.7 %), who died unintentionally (56.4 %), with mental illness (52.1 %) and/or a history of acute or chronic pain (46.2 %). 312 cases (39 %) described a legitimate prescription for oxycodone, of which most involved non-cancer related chronic pain. About three quarters of the indications were deemed appropriate. There were at least 43 different indications treated with oxycodone that were inappropriate. The majority of oxycodone-related cases involved minor to no description of the drugs involved (n = 600; 74.4 %). A moderate description of oxycodone involvement was given in 162 cases (20.1 %), while only 44 cases (5.5 %) involved a thorough examination and recommendations from the coroners on oxycodone and other drugs involved in death. This study emphasized the need for medical practitioners to exercise caution when prescribing oxycodone and for coroners to provide more consistent and detailed information regarding drug use, in order to identify and implement preventive strategies.

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The authors thank the National Coronial Information System for their help in obtaining mortality data and Dr. Malcolm Dobbin for his assistance with the data analysis. We also acknowledge the assistance of pathologists, forensic technicians and toxicologists, at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine.

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Correspondence to Jennifer L. Pilgrim.

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Pilgrim, J.L., Yafistham, S.P., Gaya, S. et al. An update on oxycodone: lessons for death investigators in Australia. Forensic Sci Med Pathol 11, 3–12 (2015).

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  • Prescribing
  • Coroner
  • Death
  • Toxicity
  • Oxycodone