Harms linked to prescription drug misuse are rising in tandem with increased prescription availability. Individual practitioners and the healthcare system each have roles in reducing harms associated with pharmaceutical drugs and a real-time prescription monitoring system could help in this process.
Prescription medications have made a significant and positive contribution to the health and wellbeing of Australians. However, some medications have the potential to cause harm when misused. Pharmacological classes identified as being particularly susceptible to misuse, dependence or subsequent harm are the benzodiazepines and the opioid analgesics. Although these drugs can legitimately be used for the evidence-based short-term treatment of patients with anxiety, insomnia and chronic pain, recent data highlight increasing rates of harm associated with their use. Given the substantial increases in the prescription of opioids and benzodiazepines in Australia, there is a growing challenge for the Federal and the various state and territory governments to increase awareness about the potential misuse of prescription medications, and to implement mechanisms that promote quality use of medicine and minimise harm. This challenge is multifaceted and requires both system level (e.g. policies related to prescribing and dispensing and monitoring systems) and individual level (e.g. screening for appropriate behavioural markers, referral and treatments) actions to succeed.
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