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Introduction: The consumption of opioids has increased globally since the 1990s. Previous studies of global opioid consumption have concentrated on morphine alone or a subset of opioids, with a focus on cancer pain and palliative care. In this study, we have determined the global, regional, and national consumption of all controlled opioids, including anaesthetics, analgesics, antidiarrheals, opioid substitution therapies, and cough suppressants. Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional study using data from the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB). We calculated mean opioid consumption (mg/person) globally, regionally, and nationally for 2015–2017, where consumption refers to the total amount of controlled opioids distributed for medical purposes and excludes recreational use. We ranked countries by total consumption and quantified the types of opioids consumed globally. Results: Between 2015 and 2017, 90% of the world’s population consumed only 11% of controlled opioids. An average of 32 mg/person was consumed annually, but this was not equally distributed across the world. Consumption was the highest in Germany (480 mg/person), followed by Iceland (428 mg/person), the United States (398 mg/person) and Canada (333 mg/person). Oxycodone (35%) was the most heavily consumed controlled opioid globally, followed by morphine (15.9%), methadone (15.8%) and tilidine (14%). Conclusion: Large disparities persist in most of the world in accessing essential opioid medicines. Consumption patterns should continue to be monitored, and collaborative strategies should be developed to promote access and the appropriate prescribing of opioids in all countries and non-metropolitan territories.

Original publication




Journal article


British Journal of Pain

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