The risks of pharmaceutical use
Pharmaceutical drugs such as medicine prescribed by a doctor provide many benefits including increasing our quality of life. Most people use these drugs appropriately, following the guidance provided by their medical practitioner or pharmacist. However, the non-prescribed use of pharmaceuticals – in particular, opioids, including over-the-counter codeine, and benzodiazepines – is increasing.
The non-prescribed use of pharmaceutical medications can include:
- taking more medication than prescribed or directed on the packet, either in one dose or over time
- taking medication in a different way to what’s recommended, such as injecting or snorting
- using medication without a prescription and ongoing medical supervision
- combining it with other drugs, including alcohol
- undertaking activities that medication affects, like driving, working or looking after children
- sharing prescription medication with friends, family or colleagues.
Soula’s story: Losing yourself in pain medication
Which medications can cause dependence?
Typically prescribed for both acute and chronic pain, strong painkillers can be effective for short periods of time, but have been proven to lose effectiveness quickly and can cause dependence. These medications can also be dangerous in increased doses or when combined with alcohol or other drugs.
Read more about:
For short periods of time, relaxant-type medication such as benzodiazepines prescribed for stress, anxiety or insomnia can be helpful in conjunction with other forms of therapy, but can cause dependence. These medications can be dangerous in increased doses or when combined with alcohol or other drugs.
Read more about benzodiazepines.
Who is at risk?
In 2013, the non-prescribed use of pharmaceuticals by Australians increased to 11.4 per cent from 7.4 per cent. If you suffer from stress, anxiety, pain or insomnia and use pharmaceutical medication to treat your symptoms, you could be at risk of harm.
Chris’ story: A pill is not always the answer
Preventing and reducing harms
There are a number of steps we can take to reduce the harms of non-prescribed pharmaceutical use. To take action:
- talk to your health professional
- take medicines according to the instructions
- be aware of potential interactions
- store medicines properly and safely
- make sure the medicine is not damaged or too old
- regularly review your medicines with your health professional
- do not share medicines
- be aware of the effects on driving ability.
Download ‘Pharmaceutical use: Management techniques’ fact sheet:
Download ‘The risks of pharmaceutical use: What can be done?’ :
Hester’s story: We’ve been beguiled by the quick fix
Real-time prescription monitoring
Prescribing doctors and dispensing pharmacists can access accurate information about a patient’s medication history with respect to specific high-risk drugs.