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When you think about an overdose, you probably have a mental image of somebody doing illegal drugs, like heroin. But it’s actually prescription drugs that are responsible for most of the overdoses in the country.
Those drugs can be very necessary for some people. But Bee Mohamed, the CEO of ScriptWise, a not-for-profit dedicated to reducing the use of prescription medication, warns that they can become addictive very quickly.
"It [can] actually happen quite accidentally," says Mohamed. "They might have been to the hospital for a minor surgery or they went to a dentist or they suffer from chronic back pain and they've been prescribed these medications."
"Unfortunately, sometimes, the patient might not take the medications as prescribed."
The riskiest age is between 30 and 60 years old, but everybody can be affected, no matter the age, sex or background.
What can you do?
If you’re prescribed strong painkillers like morphine or oxycodone, you’ll need to listen carefully and ask questions of your doctors and your pharmacist to make sure you understand how to take them properly.
You also want to check how they interact with other drugs you’re taking. Some medications could be fatal if mixed together incorrectly or combined with alcohol.
If you have any doubts about how to take your medication or possible interactions, you can call the Australian Medicines Line at 1300 MEDICINE.
The government is fighting addiction
With addiction to prescription medication rising in Australia, the government is taking action.
The government is rolling out a new prescription drug monitoring system for doctors and pharmacists. It means that everybody’s prescription records will be in one place, so they will be able to identify those who shop around for strong medication.
Also coming next year, codeine-based medicines like Nurofen Plus won't be available over-the-counter anymore.
For now, Nurofen Plus can be bought from behind the counter at the chemist. But from February next year, it will only be available with a prescription.
That’s part of a new measure to have better control on painkillers and other prescription medication.
If you think that you or a loved one need help, the best thing to do is talk to your doctor; they can help you find a solution.
People often feel isolated and shameful when they develop an addiction, but asking for help is a step in the right direction.
“Doctors are actually an excellent resource to talk about these issues. I don't think people should feel shy to talk to their doctors about these issues," says John Ryan, CEO of the Penington Institute, a not-for-profit working on countering substance abuse.
"Obviously, it's always an uncomfortable conversation, but it's actually much better to have the conversation than to keep silent."
Useful phone numbers
Medicine Line (to get information about your medicines): 1300 MEDICINE
Lifeline (to get help and for crisis support): 13 11 14
Family Drug Support: 1300 368 186
Beyond Blue (to get help and for crisis support): 1300 22 4636
Counselling online (Chat and SMS support)