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Prescription drug use study

Friday, 02 September 2011


ECU researchers from the School of Law and Justice have designed and helped implement a national study examining the use of prescription drugs among police detainees.

The survey found that nearly one in five respondents used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes in the past 12 months, suggesting that the misuse of legal drugs is a growing concern in Australia.

The study is part of the Australian Institute of Criminology’s (AIC’s) ongoing Drug Use Monitoring in Australia (DUMA) program.

The program operates quarterly, with researchers around Australia surveying those detained by police to collect demographic, substance use history and criminal justice-related information.

The ECU team collected data from the East Perth watch house but analysed the national data.
Following an approach by the WA Police, the ECU team collaborated with the AIC to develop additional questions on the use of prescription drugs.

After surveying 986 people in sites across Australia, the survey found:

  • benzodiazepines were the most common prescription drug type used;
  • females were more likely than males to have taken prescription drugs for non-medical purposes;
  • most pharmaceuticals were sourced from friends or family, or the person’s usual doctor or pharmacy;
  • prescription drug users were more likely to be unemployed, derive their income from welfare and consider themselves drug dependent; and
  • the most common reasons for taking prescription drugs included the relief of anxiety and insomnia (41%), getting high (30%), managing withdrawal (16%), curiosity (8%) and pain relief (5%).

School of Justice and Law Teaching and Research Scholar, Mrs Natalie Gately, said:

“Prescription drug use continues to be of interest with the latest National Drug Strategy Household Survey indicating that prescription drug use for non-medical purposes had significantly increased in the period between 2007 and 2010, and that increase had been observed in both males and females. 

“Furthermore, the deaths of Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger, Brittany Murphy and more recently Amy Winehouse have all been linked with pharmaceuticals.”


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