The pill epidemic

Painkiller misuse is rife, survey finds, with 75% reporting misuse of OTC codeine products, and 20% misusing prescriptions     

The recently released Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report National Drug Strategy Household Survey: detailed findings 2016, provides a wealth of insights into Australians’ use of, and attitudes to, drugs and alcohol (including prescription medicines).

The report found that about 1 in 20 Australians reported misusing pharmaceuticals, with 75% of recent painkiller users reporting misusing an ‘over the counter’ codeine product in the past 12 months.

The AIHW will be publishing comprehensive data on pharmaceutical misuse later in 2017.

Here’s some of the findings from the recent report:

  • 3 in 4 (75%) recent painkiller/opioid misusers reported misusing an OTC codeine product in the past
    12 months. These were more likely to be misused by teenagers, with 89% of recent users aged 14–19 reporting misusing an OTC codeine product in the past 12 months
  • The next most commonly misused pain-killer/opiate among misusers of pharmaceuticals was prescription codeine products, such as Panadeine Forte (40%). These products were most commonly misused by those in their 20s and 30s.
  • Misuse of fentanyl was rare (0.9%) as was misuse of gabapentinoids such as Neurontin or Lyrica (1.7%).
  • In line with previous years, pain-killers/analgesics and opioids’ was the most commonly misused class of pharmaceutical (3.6%), making it the second most illicitly used drug, after cannabis, in 2016.
  • The majority of people misusing pharmaceutical analgesics and opioids bought them from a pharmacy (52%) and about 1 in 5 obtained it with a prescription or by doctor shopping.
  • Males and females tended to misuse pharmaceuticals at similar rates in 2016 (4.9% for males and 4.6% for females).
  • Use of ‘pain-killers/analgesics and opioids’ was most common among those in their 40s (4.5%) and least common among those aged 14–19 (2.7%).
  • Those aged 20–29 were most likely to misuse tranquillisers/sleeping pills (2.1%)
  • 20% of recent users of methadone/buprenorphine, 10.7% of recent users of ‘painkillers/analgesics
    and opioids’ and 8.0% of recent users of tranquillisers/sleeping pills said that they could not stop or cut down their use, even if they wanted to. (The rate for methadone/buprenorphine users that could not stop using or cut down was the second highest after heroin).
  • More Australians are in favour of the use of cannabis in clinical trials to treat medical conditions—87% now support its use, up from 75% in 2013. Also, 85% of people now support legislative changes to permit its use for medical purposes in general.

In total, 23,772 people completed the AIHW survey. Click here for the full report

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