10 things to know about Australian veterans and medicines


Veterans health: young diggers march in Darwin parade. Image courtesy Defence.

Over one million medications were dispensed to around 70,000 contemporary ex-serving defence force members in 2017–18

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has released its latest statistics on medications dispensed to contemporary ex-serving Australian Defence Force (ADF) members—i.e. with service from 1 Jan 2001 and discharged prior to 1 July 2017.

This includes medications dispensed under the PBS and RPBS.

For the first time, the analysis also includes contemporary ex-serving ADF members who are not Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) cardholders.

Most medications were dispensed to contemporary ex-serving ADF members at similar rates as the general population.

However “rates of anti-depressants dispensed were slightly higher for ex-serving members compared with all Australians, while rates for cardiovascular medications were slightly lower,” says AIHW spokesperson Michael Frost.

Here are 10 top points based on the statistics for the time period 2017–18:

  1. Over 1 million medications were dispensed to around 70,000 contemporary ex-serving ADF members, an average of 16 dispensings per person.
  2. Around two thirds (64%) of all contemporary ex-serving ADF members were dispensed at least one medication. After accounting for age and sex, similar proportions of the contemporary ex-serving and Australian populations were dispensed medications (72% and 71%, respectively)
  3. Of all medications dispensed to contemporary ex-serving members in 2017–18, DVA cardholders were dispensed more than half (54%), general beneficiaries were dispensed a third (33%) and concession cardholders just over one in ten (12%).
  4. Twenty-two percent of contemporary ex-serving ADF members and 24% of all Australians were dispensed cardiovascular medications, adjusted for age and sex differences.
  5. More contemporary ex-serving ADF members were dispensed antidepressants (20%), adjusted for age and sex differences, compared to 15% of all Australians. More contemporary ex-serving ADF members were dispensed opioids (17%), adjusted for age and sex differences, compared to 15% of all Australians.
  6. 15% of contemporary ex-serving ADF members were dispensed non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), adjusted for age and sex differences, compared to 12% of all Australians.
  7. Over half (57%) of the contemporary ex-serving population are aged between 30 and 49 and, therefore, over half (54%) of contemporary ex-serving members dispensed at least one medication were aged 30 to 49. However almost half (47%) of ALL medications were dispensed to members aged 50 to 69.
  8. The contemporary ex-serving population is mostly men (85%) and the majority of contemporary ex-serving members dispensed at least one medication were also men (82%). 
  9. The most common medications dispensed to contemporary ex-serving members in the study period were those relating to the nervous system, which accounted for 33% of all medications dispensed. This includes medications such as antidepressants, anticonvulsants and analgesics. This was followed by medications relating to the cardiovascular system, which accounted for 26% of all medications dispensed. Together these two categories accounted for 59% of all dispensed medications.
  10. Total costs for the one million medications dispensed to contemporary ex-members came to just over $50 million, which was an average of $728 per person and $47 per dispensing.

Note: In this report, the terms ‘dispensing’ and ‘medication dispensed’ have been used to describe the supply of a pharmaceutical benefit under the PBS, or RPBS. It does not measure prescriptions written, nor does it infer that the medications were taken.

The PBS/RPBS does not cover medicines supplied to public hospital in-patients, non-RPBS over the counter medicines or private dispensings.

If you need help or support, please contact:

Open Arms – Veterans and Families Counselling 1800 011 046, or openarms.gov.au

ADF All-hours Support Line 1800 628 036

Operation Life Online

Lifeline 13 11 14, or lifeline.org.au

Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467, or suicidecallbackservice.org.au

Beyondblue Support Service 1300 22 4636, or beyondblue.org.au

For information on support provided by DVA see:

  dva.gov.au/health-and-wellbeing/mental-health

  dva.gov.au/factsheet-hsv99-mental-health-support

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