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The Organisation for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC) was established in 1948. Other countries joined in, starting with Japan in 1964. Today, 36 OECD member countries worldwide identify problems, discuss and analyse them, and promote policies to solve them.

The OECD has just reported that opioid use has reached crisis proportions not only in the United States but also in Canada and some European countries, as prescription opioid painkillers have become much more common.

“The United States is by no means alone in facing this crisis,” the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said in its report. The Paris-based policy forum said deaths linked to opioid use were also rising sharply in Sweden, Norway, Ireland, and England and Wales.

Ilicit opioids constitute a significant product of international illicit trade. Heroin is a semi-synthetic opiate synthesised from morphine and is the most prevalent illicit opioid worldwide. Approximately twice as potent as morphine, heroin has a high potential for problematic use. In recent years, fentanyl and fentanyl analogues have become much more prominent in the illicit drugs scene in many countries.

The majority of those who die in Europe are men, accounting for 3 out of 4 deaths. However, in the United States, opioid use has been rising among pregnant women, particularly among those on low incomes. Having a mental health disorder was also associated with a two-fold greater use of prescription opioids in the US.

An increase in prescription and over-prescription of opioids for pain management is among the factors driving the crisis. Governments should review industry regulations to ensure they protect people from harm as, since the late 1990s, manufacturers have consistently downplayed the problematic effect of opioids.

Doctors should improve their prescribing practices, for instance through evidence-based clinical guidelines and increased surveillance of opioid prescriptions. Governments can also regulate marketing and financial relationships with opioid manufacturers. Coverage for long-term medication-assisted therapy, such as methadone and buprenorphine, should be expanded.

Strengthening the integration of health and social services, such as unemployment and housing support, and criminal justice systems would help improve treatment for people with Opioid Use Disorder.