One million Aussies misuse pharmaceuticals

medicine2One million Australians misused pharmaceuticals in the previous 12 months, a new report revealed.

Analysis conducted by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) showed the misuse of powerful prescription medications for non-medical reasons is rising and now account for more drug-induced deaths than illegal drugs.

“Over the past decade, there has been a substantial rise in the number of deaths involving a prescription drug, with drug-induced deaths more likely to be due to prescription drugs than illegal drugs,” said AIHW spokesperson Matthew James.

The report, released on Tuesday, looked at two main types of prescription drugs: opioid analgesics (which include morphine, codeine and tramadol), and benzodiazepines – prescribed to improve sleep and treat stress.

According to the report, the number of people older than 14 to have misused a pharmaceutical drug in 2016 was at 4.8 per cent, up from 3.7 per cent in 2007. Use of pharmaceuticals for non-medical reasons in 2015-16 was higher than all illegal drugs, except cannabis (10.4 per cent), and more people sought treatment for opioid painkillers compared to a decade ago, increasing from 56 per cent in 2006-07 to 73 per cent in 2015-16.

Benzodiazepines were the most common single drug type identified among the 1,808 drug induced deaths, accounting for 663 deaths in 2016. Prescription painkillers such as oxycodone, morphine and codeine accounted for 550 of the drug induced deaths.

Earlier this year, the National Drug Strategy Household Survey showed that indigenous Australians were more than twice as likely to have recently used a pharmaceutical for non-medical purposes than non-indigenous Australians. The survey also found people living in remote areas were almost twice as likely as those living in major cities to have recently used a pharmaceutical for non-medical purposes.

“This finding also held true for Australians living in the most disadvantaged socio-economic areas, with six per cent having recently misused pharmaceuticals compared with 4.2 per cent of those in the most advantaged areas,” said James.

Recent users of pharmaceuticals for non-medical purposes were also more likely than those who had not misused pharmaceuticals to experience mental illness, chronic pain and experience high or very high levels of psychological distress, according to the report.

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