| 12.07,09. 11:22 PM |
Aussies addicted to prescription drugs
July 12, 2009 12:00am
THE abuse and misuse of prescription drugs is not restricted to Michael Jackson and the Hollywood set.
More than half a million Australians are addicted to painkillers, and drugs in the fatal cocktail taken by Jackson - including Xanax, Valium and Zoloft - are being widely used in Australia.
Dr Alex Wodak, of St Vincent's Hospital, said a growing proportion of people were misusing those drugs.
"We're worried that if consumption keeps rising, we'll begin to see the same kind of problems they saw in the United States, with overdose deaths from this group of drugs outnumbering heroin-overdose deaths in the year 2000," Dr Wodak said.
Zoloft, an anti-depressant prescription drug, has been issued more than 230,000 times in the past 12 months.
Xanax, an addictive sedative, was prescribed 5000 times from January to May this year.
In NSW alone, the use of Xanax has increased by 40 per cent in the past 10 years.
Paperwork from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department, obtained by American media outlets, alleges Jackson took at least 10 Xanax pills every night.
The 2004 documents claim Jackson's employees travelled to doctors' offices around the country to have prescription medication issued in their names.
Valium, a muscle relaxant used for tension associated with the normal stress of everyday life, has already been prescribed 24,000 times this year alone.
In the 12 months to May, Valium was prescribed almost 60,000 times in NSW.
Australians aged 20 to 29 are most likely to abuse pharmaceuticals, and the non-medical use of painkillers and sleeping tablets is highest among this age group.
The 2007 National Drug Strategy Household Survey found about 600,000 Australians had used painkillers for non-medical use in the previous six months.
The overuse of pain-relief medication has led to calls for a new system of monitoring patients' use of drugs.
The system would enable doctors and pharmacists to determine whether a patient had recently been prescribed a drug and whether they had already purchased it at another location.
Pharmacy Guild of Australia president Kos Sclavos said the technology was available and he was talking to government ministers about implementing it.
"Doctor shopping" was becoming an issue in need of urgent attention, he said.
"People are going from one doctor to another getting prescriptions. What we're saying is there needs to be a better system," Mr Sclavos said.
"This cycle goes all the way up to that of Michael Jackson, where even prescription drugs aren't enough and he's trying to get anaesthesia to get a good night's sleep."