Tapentadol is a centrally-acting opioid analgesic registered for use in Australia to treat moderate to severe pain. Clinical trials suggest that tapentadol provides analgesia for acute and chronic pain similar to oxycodone and morphine [1, 2], but with lower abuse potential [3]. A recent review by the World Health Organisation Expert Committee on Drug Dependence highlighted a lack of data regarding “abuse, dependence, diversion, or recreational use”, noting that tapentadol generally does not feature in drug use surveys or surveillance reports [3]. Whilst subsequent research on this topic has been published in Australia [4,5], there is a need for ongoing surveillance. 

Consequently, the aims of this bulletin are to report on: i) population-level utilisation of tapentadol relative to other pharmaceutical opioids in Australia, and ii) indicators of extra-medical use and harms amongst a sentinel sample of people who regularly inject drugs in Australia.
Key findings:

  • Tapentadol had the seventh largest market share of number of packs sold in December 2019 (5.5%), and the greatest market share of pharmaceutical opioids sold in that month when considered in oral morphine equivalent units (17.1%).
  • Tapentadol 50mg and 100mg sustained-release formulation (SRF) comprised the majority of tapentadol unit sales nationally.
  • Highest sales of tapentadol in 2019 were observed in Western Australia; lowest were observed in the Northern Territory. 
  • Self-reported lifetime non-prescribed use of tapentadol among the samples of people who regularly inject drugs was low (2.2% in 2019) but had increased slightly over time (0.9% in 2017). 
  • Less than 2% of participants each year reported ever injecting tapentadol in the 2017-2019 samples. 
  • Few participants (n<5) reported an overdose on tapentadol when queried in 2017 and 2019. 



Agata Chrzanowska, Natasa Gisev, Olivia Price, Rachel Sutherland, Sonja Memedovic, Louisa Degenhardt, Michael Farrell & Amy Peacock
Date Commenced
23 Jun 2020
Resource Type
Drug Trends Bulletins