A lack of awareness and a willingness to over-prescribe medication is what has led to immense numbers of prescription drug overdose, according to an Australian drug awareness foundation.
In Australia, prescription medication alone has consistently contributed to more overdose deaths than either illicit drugs or alcohol, and the consequence is a death count which surpasses the country’s road toll.
Dedicated to reducing the number is Scriptwise chief executive Bee Mohamed.
Scriptwise is a not-for-profit organisation intent on reducing prescription misuse and overdose fatalities.
Ms Mohamed said a stigma around what it meant to be addicted to drugs and a lack of knowledge on the impact prescription drugs could have was what had contributed to hundreds of overdose deaths each year.
She said the public health issue, which kills hundreds of Australians each year, continued to be one which flew under the radar of patients and those who worked in the health industry.
‘‘There is a perception that just because it comes from a general practitioner or a pharmacist, that it’s okay,’’ Ms Mohamed said.
‘‘While we’re not saying it’s not good for you, some of these medications actually contain addictive ingredients, and addiction often happens unknowingly and to anybody.’’
A recent analysis of ABS data by researchers at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre found 68 per cent of the 668 overdose deaths in 2013 were related to pharmaceutical opioids.
Ms Mohamed said it was common for patients to be sent home from hospitals with packets of opioid painkillers and there was often no follow-up, which was what led to addiction.
She said there was an attitude within the health industry to over-prescribe medication, rather than aiding ailments through more holistic approaches when necessary.
‘‘With the issues we’re facing at the moment, you obviously get the good GPs and pharmacists, but then we definitely have other health professionals who tend to use a quick-fix method,’’ Ms Mohamed said.
‘‘As a society at the moment we’re all trying to get well quicker and there’s more of a focus on that than recovering and resting.
‘‘For us, it’s about making people understand there are better options and changing not only the behaviour of practitioners, but empowering patients to realise if and when that medication is appropriate.’’
Ms Mohamed also said there needed to be more awareness around what led to prescription dependence, an issue which impacted on everyday Australians.
According to statistics, half of Australians had admitted to using opioid painkillers in the past year, but the same amount did not believe it was possible to become addicted, she said.
‘‘That’s how we end up with more people dying, because there’s a huge stigma around treating people with addictions,’’ Ms Mohamed said.
‘‘There needs to be a shift in mindset to ensure we treat them like any other patient, and the patients themselves need to realise the seriousness of the issue.’’