How your prescription drugs could be making you sick

Survey finds half of patients could be putting themselves at risk.


More than half of Australians taking prescription medications could be failing to follow their doctor’s instructions, according to new findings from the Australian Patients Association (APA).

The survey of APA members found that even those who believed they were diligently following their doctor’s directives were putting themselves at risk.

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

One-half of respondents admitted they had not completed their prescription as directed by their doctors and 38 per cent said they do not check whether their medicines had expired before taking them.

The APA said the findings revealed that risky practices were being pursued even by those who believed they were complying with directions.

The survey found that 78 per cent of respondents were taking two or more medications with the most common reasons being to manage chronic disease (42 per cent) or to control pain (18 per cent).

The APA’s national strategy director, Michael Riley, says the findings highlight the needs for greater consumer education.

“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,” he says. “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.”

A national drug strategy survey by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) in 2016 found that 2.5 million Australians (12.8 per cent) misused a pharmaceutical drug at some point in their lifetime, with just under 1 in 20 (4.8 per cent) admitting to misusing a pharmaceutical drug in the previous 12 months.

Pharmacist and Victorian president of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, Anthony Tassone, says it is crucial to check the expiry date of any medication – especially as people commonly keep medications after stopping the original course of treatment. “Expired medicines mean that the manufacturer cannot guarantee the drug will be effective for purpose or is still as safe,” he said.

“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.”

Are you guilty of not checking the expiry dates on medication? Do you keep medication left over after a medical condition has improved, in case you need it later?



    To make a comment, please register or login
    31st Jul 2018
    I know for an absolute FACT that any of the FLUOROQUINOLONE DRUGS and also the BISPHOSPHONATES cause more trouble than they are worth I will leave it up to you to research.
    Drs love to push them.

    The Fluoroquinolones are a class of Antibiotics and the Bisphosphonates are given to "strengthen" bones -- WRONG!!!!!!! and they cause many other problems
    31st Jul 2018
    I feel that it is important for you to state your qualifications if you are going to pronounce on the efficacy of drugs.
    31st Jul 2018
    I don't think it's a matter of qualifications, Maggie, you can read the side effects [written by qualified people] of oral bisphosphonates. It has been indicated to cause an increased risk of esophageal cancer along with one or two other nasty side effects. Granted these are rare side effects but that doesn't help the patient who is one of the unlucky ones.
    31st Jul 2018
    Naggie, you don't need medical qualifications to know the effects medications have on your own body.
    31st Jul 2018
    Patients stop taking the drugs because a lot of times the doctor either over prescribes, its the wrong drug and the patient has had an adverse reaction, or its a ridiculous generic that was never going to work anyway.
    Then it will be on My Health record as the drug of choice and the contraindication will never have been recorded. The poor person goes to hospital and they are re-administered the wrong drug - again. Ugh.
    31st Jul 2018
    I find it really annoying that the pamphlet which used to accompany a prescription drug, with important information about how and when to take a medication, side effects etc. is never included with generic meds.
    Old Geezer
    31st Jul 2018
    Just ask for one.
    31st Jul 2018
    Absolutely Maggie. I now go onto the net when I get home and read the warnings i.e. - Not safe to operate machinery! Then I write on the box what the medication is for.
    How easy is it going to be for people to make mistakes especially as a lot less people have the internet than our cost cutting Government realises.
    Who is liable when Law enforcers check our "My Health Record" and find we have been taking a generic drug with no warnings on the box and we have fallen asleep at the wheel?
    The government who made generics the default, the doctor whose database lists generic drugs first, the pharmacist who gives you generics without the warning sheet- no us!
    31st Jul 2018
    Yes, those things annoy me as well, Maggie and Rosret.
    31st Jul 2018
    ... and the print is invariably tiny.
    31st Jul 2018
    If there is no leaflet in the box, just ask the pharmacist to print one for you. No problem at all.

    Also, if you are concerned about generic medicine, don't buy it, just buy the branded one. The pharmacist will always ask which one you want.

    More importantly, if your doctor prescribes something new, ASK HIM/HER about it before you leave the surgery.

    Take responsibility for your own health, and don't blame others.
    31st Jul 2018
    johninmelb you must live in a completely different world.
    I didn't realise there were no leaflets in the box until I got home.

    You don't realise you have been given junk medicine until you get home and then a new script is another trip to the doctor.

    Of course we can blame others. We had a service and a quality product and now we have neither. When we have learnt the hard way we will make sure all those things happen but what a shame quality medical treatment has gone from an expectation to a privilege.
    31st Jul 2018
    No Rosret, I do not live in a completely different world.

    I always discuss any new medicine with the doctor before he gives me the script. I need to know what I am taking, why, and what the possible side effects might be. He is happy to talk to me. He knows I will disagree with him if I am not happy. Had the same doctor for 16 years, and I would not change. He is the best I have ever had.

    My pharmacist always asks me if I want brand or generic if the doctor has not ticked no brand substitution on the script. If yours doesn't then tell him you only want the branded medicine. You have a tongue in your head. If I present a script for something different, my pharmacist always asks if I have had it before. If not, he explains the ins and outs of it to me, and how to use it.

    It matters not one jot that you found no leaflet when you got home. Next time you're at the shops go and get one from the chemist. He has your details on file. Or if you need to take the medicine immediately, call and ask him about it.

    Generics are not junk medicine. However they may not suit everyone. Active ingredient is identical to brand, but maybe other fillers etc. That's the only difference. They still have to pass muster with the TGA before release. AGAIN - TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR and be guided by him as to what is suitable for YOU.

    Like you I deplore the current state of medical treatment in this country, but whining about it won't fix it. That takes money and vision, two things sadly lacking in our ratbag politicians today. That said, I have no complaints about the quality of treatment I currently get. I have the best doctor and dentist, a fantastic pharmacist, and great cardiologist. But my biggest fear is not being able to afford health insurance with constantly rising prices.
    31st Jul 2018
    I was convinced husbands script for CRESTOR was the cause of severe pain in buttocks and legs. Nothing in the papers given with the script as to that side effect. However on the FDA website is a known side effect! Mentioned to a medic friend and his wife had suffered the same. Husband off the med now, under medical supervision, and in 2 weeks the improvement has been amazing.
    1st Aug 2018
    Very common with all the cholesterol meds unfortunately, particularly Lipitor which is under a class action in the US. Recent studies suggest these drugs are ineffective anyway and that a vasodilator over the counter is equally effective.
    1st Aug 2018
    Yes, Knows-a- lot you may very well know a lot about what effects a med has on your own body. However you do not know how others will react to the same medication. We are all different and do not necessarily react in the same way. Therefore I think that we need to leave medical advice to the experts.
    1st Aug 2018
    maggie, knows-a-lot thinks it is intelligent, poor backer it knows nothing, absolute waste of time even to consider reading its comments in these columns!

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