Pharmacists are being encouraged to talk to patients about medicines misuse this week

Pharmacists are often the first people to notice when a person is using their medicines incorrectly, says Dr Lynn Weekes, CEO of NPS MedicineWise.

This week is Be MedicineWise Week (21-27 August) and NPS MedicineWise has marked the occasion by releasing figures which show many Australians are misusing their medicines, focusing on codeine-containing painkillers and cold and flu medicines.

“Pharmacists are in a really good spot to notice if people are taking higher or lower doses than they should be, taking medicines too often or not often enough,” Dr Weekes told the AJP.

“They can be that first point of intervention, to say, ‘are you okay? What can we do to make sure you get the best benefit from your medicines?’

“And I really think that pharmacists do that as their job all the time, and that’s particularly for OTC products as well, as they’re very aware of people who are coming in more often than appropriate for, say, painkillers.”

NPS MedicineWise is communicating with consumers this week about ways they are possibly misusing medicines, including:

  • taking medicines at the wrong time, or at the wrong dose;
  • taking medicines in unsafe ways such as opening capsules or cutting patches;
  • sharing medicines with family or friends;
  • mixing medicines leading to incorrect dosing or side effects; and
  • taking medicines with other substances like illegal drugs or alcohol.

Be Medicinewise Week will also raise awareness about how easily dependency on pain and sleep medications can develop, and remind people about the safe use of preparations containing codeine.

NPS’ new survey, conducted by Galaxy Omnibus and including 1000 participants, showed that more than two million Australians (12%) had exceeded the recommended daily dose of widely-used medicines such as paracetamol/codeine, ibuprofen/codeine and Codral Cold and Flu tablets.

Almost one in three had consumed alcohol soon after taking prescription pain relief, and 27% had used someone else’s prescription medicine or given their own to a family member.

“This is a really good week to be talking about the right time to take medication and not taking it with other things that might interact with it – whether that’s alcohol or grapefruit juice or another medicine,” Dr Weekes says.

“One great role for pharmacists is helping people understand when they can break or crush tablets, that they shouldn’t cut patches to get half the dose.

“These are pharmacists might take for granted, but consumers don’t know what could happen if they crush a slow-release OTC preparation and that they may not work as intended, or that if they cut a patch, the membrane being cut may mean they’re not getting the dose they should.

“I’d like to ask them to work with us on this to raise awareness among the public, and congratulate them on the great job that they always do.”