Customs seizures and statistics from The Norwegian National Criminal Investigation Service (Kripos) indicate that there is widespread abuse of the prescription drug Tramadol, which is an opioid used to treat moderate and severe pain.

More Norwegians now die from pharmaceutical opioid overdoses than from heroin overdoses

More people now die from overdoses of strong painkillers with opioids than overdoses of heroine, according to a study from the Norwegian institute of public health.

The increase has happened in the same period as opioid prescription policies in Norway have been liberalized, and an increasing number of people have been prescribed such opioids. This is according to a study done by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH).

In 2010, 30 per cent of drug overdose deaths in Norway were due to strong painkillers with opioids, while 70 per cent of drug overdose deaths were due to heroin. In 2018, this distribution had changed to 60 and 40 per cent.

“We don’t know if those who died had opioids prescribed to them by doctors, or if they were able to get a hold of these drugs in other ways,” project manager and senior researcher at the NIPH Linn Gjersing says in a press release (link in Norwegian). Gjersing conducted the study in collaboration with colleague and senior researcher Ellen Amundsen.

Similar tendencies in other countries

Gjersin says that other countries have experienced similar increases in such deaths following changes in prescription policies, which may indicate that the opioids have been prescribed by doctors.

“But it can also mean that people who have been prescribed opioids in Norway are selling it on the illegal market, and that those who are dying are using opioids without prescriptions,” Gjersing says.

Could be smuggled from abroad

Another possible explanation according to the researchers could be increased imports from abroad, in other words smuggling. The increase in overdoses caused by such opioid drugs could therefore simply by chance have taken place at the same time as prescription policies have changed. The researchers will delve into these questions in another study.

Between 2010 to 2018, a total of 616 people died due to different opioids, while 651 people died of a heroin overdose in Norway.

The study was recently published in the International Journal of Drug Policy.


Translated by: Ida Irene Bergstrøm

Read the Norwegian version of this article on


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