Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Pharmaceutical drug misuse in Australia

An article by Monash adjunct senior research fellow Dr Malcolm Dobbin has found Australians are becoming increasingly dependent on prescribed or over-the-counter medicines, with the number of psychoactive drugs and formulations available in Australia also on the rise.

Opioids and benzodiazepines have seen to be commonly abused prescription drugs amongst the population, particularly amongst high functioning, high socio-economic status and educated community; also known as the ‘hidden population’ who differ from the ‘typical’ drug user stereotype. These individuals also maintain high functioning lifestyles within the community, in spite of their drug abuse.


Opioids: Synthetic narcotics that are commonly used to provide pain relief.

Benzodiazepines: Drugs that have sedative properties and are utilised as tranquilisers in treating anxiety.

The misuse of these prescription drugs within the hidden population has seen to be a growing issue within developed regions such as the United States and Canada, with the problem now emerging in Australia. The supply of oxycodone has seen a 22-fold growth from 1997-2012, now being the seventh leading drug that is prescribed in clinics. This growth of prescription drugs has also seen effect with opioids, evidence highlighting that the prescriptions subsidised by the PBS was 7 million in 2007, a stark increase from the 2.4 million in 1992.

The association between alcohol and drug treatment with prescription drug abuse has also been seen with many entering rehabilitation reporting previous misuse of opioids and benzodiazepines. The surge of opioid misuse has created a shift in the abuse of drugs. The 1990’s saw heroin represent a majority of hospital admissions due to opioid abuse, however, 2007-2008 indicated that prescription opioids were responsible for 80% of related hospitalizations.

The abuse of prescription drugs has created risks within the community similar to the consequences of illicit drug use. Prescription opioids and benzodiazepines misuse place a burden on healthcare costs and create criminal activity surrounding purchasing of the medication and trafficking of psychoactive drugs and forgery of prescription.

As a response, the PBS restricts Opioids for “severe disabling pain not responsive to non-narcotic analgesics” A series of guidelines are also in place to deliver assistance regarding the use of opioids and benzodiazepines. Dobbins recommends that the difficulties in treating substance abuse are vast and classified as high risk. Therefore, referral to an addiction specialist could be required. Furthermore, the prescription process should be carefully controlled with the supply only being provided after a risk and need assessment coupled with a plan to ensure that the chance of misuse is minimal with a drug treatment option readily available if required.


Click to read the full paper here.


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