Australia’s hidden epidemic under spotlight


Following International Overdose Awareness Day, CEO of the non-for-profit organisation ScriptWise, Ms Norhawa Bee called for more government support to lift the stigma of prescription medicine addiction.

Between 2007 and 2010, the number of Australians who had used pharmaceuticals for non-medical purposes rose to more than 100,000.

Meanwhile, recent research shows that one in ten people who are prescribed with over-the-counter medication will develop a dependency, even without a previous history of substance abuse or addiction.

Ms Bee said more people need to be educated on the potential dangers of prescription medication and the prominence of prescription medicine addiction.

“Once you start using prescription medication for more than a month, it’s likely for a patient to develop a dependency,” Ms Ismail said.

“What needs to happen is for there to be more support and resources for people experiencing prescription medicine dependence.”

The number of people becoming dependent on over-the-counter drugs like benzodiazepines and opioids is rapidly increasing Australia wide. Photo:

She believes if addiction cases and overdose deaths caused by over-prescription medication continue to rise at the current rate, Australia will soon be in proportion with the US and Canada.

“44 people die every day from prescription overdoses in the US, while the number of overdose deaths caused by prescription drug in Australia exceeds that of illicit drugs.”

“The government really needs to acknowledge that this is an issue and start supporting organisations like ScriptWise in educating fellow Australians.”

Senior Project Manager at the National Centre for Education & Training on Addiction and Researcher at Flinders University Mr Roger Nicholas said the poor quality prescription of benzodiazepines and opioids has played a major part in the influx of misuse and addiction cases.

“In terms of misuse and dependency, drugs like benzodiazepines and opioids are being widely prescribed as long-term treatment methods,” Mr Nicholas said.

“They should really be the last line of treatment for problems like insomnia, anxiety and alleviating short and long term non-cancer pain.”

A 26-year old man from Hervey Bay, in Queensland was prescribed OxyContin two years ago following a back injury while working as a labourer, which soon developed into an addiction.

He said being dependent on OxyContin changed his life dramatically due to the wide degree of negative effects.

“After a couple of months, I found myself self-medicating depending on the pain and it just worsened from there,” he said.

“I became severely depressed and ended up visiting different doctors for the same prescription just because I felt like I needed more. It took a massive toll on my life.”

Non-for-profit organisations like WHOS and the Australian Red Cross will be holding workshops and events in major cities and towns to harness the wider community with skills to identify and respond to people experiencing prescription drug dependency.

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Twibbon’s have become a powerful tool in spreading awareness for various causes. Photo:

To find an event closest to you, visit or to help raise awareness click the following link to add a Twibbon to your Facebook profile picture –


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