24 July 2018

More than half of Australians consuming prescription medications could be following practices against their doctor’s instructions according to new findings from the Australian Patients Association.

The consumer perception survey of Australian Patients Association members found even those who considered themselves to be proficient at managing their medicines still engaged in unsafe practices.

93 percent of respondents agreed that not taking medicines as directed could cause harm, and 90 percent were confident that they took medication correctly as prescribed at all times, yet the findings revealed complacency in consumer behaviour.

Half of respondents admitted to not completing their prescription as directed by their health professional, and 38% said they do not check if their medicines have expired before taking.

The findings reveal a perception gap where risky practices are being pursued even by those who believe they are complying correctly with their medication.

The survey of 155 Australian Patients Association members found 78% of respondents were taking two or more medications with the most common reasons being to manage chronic disease (42%) or to control pain (18%).

The respondents indicated a high-level of interest in their healthcare with 85% saying they were easily able to source reliable information on taking their medication and 81% having recently completed a review of their medicines with a General Practitioner or pharmacist in the last 6 months.

National Strategy Director of the Australian Patients Association, Michael Riley, says the findings emphasise the needs for greater education to prescription medication consumers:

“The survey data shows that mistakes and misuse occur even among people who are highly invested in their healthcare and go to great efforts to follow their prescription medication advice by the letter. Seemingly harmless behaviours can have very serious consequences. It underlines the complexity of medication compliance and the need for continued consumer education on medication use and risks of misuse”.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s National Drug Strategy Household survey of 2016 found that 2.5 million (or 12.8%) people in Australia misused a pharmaceutical drug at some point in their lifetime, with just under 1 in 20 (4.8%) Australians having misused a pharmaceutical drug in the last 12 months.

In a bid to build public understanding around medication misuse, The Australian Patients Association is holding a forum on the impact of prescription medications. Called Medication Myths, Mistakes and Misuse, the forum is at Melbourne Town Hall on Sunday 5th August 2018. The forum will explore appropriate use of prescription medications, discuss pain management and how patients, the pharmaceutical industry, doctors and pharmacists can work together to educate the public on the appropriate use of medications and harm prevention strategies.

Pharmacist and Victorian Branch President of The Pharmacy Guild of Australia, Anthony Tassone, is one of the speakers at the Public Forum, and he says:

“It is crucial to always check the expiry date of any medication. Expired medicines mean that the manufacturer cannot guarantee the drug will be effective for purpose or is still as safe”.

Tassone says it is common for people to keep medications after they have stopped the original course of treatment but that can lead to harm in later consumption.

“An expired medicine may not work as well and can cause adverse effects. Pharmacies offer safe disposal of unwanted medicines which can reduce risks around this area of medicine misuse”.

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