Faces of Recovery

ScriptWise encourages all Australians to talk about the current opioid painkiller epidemic.


As part of our campaign on International Overdose Awareness Day in 2017 to reduce the stigma around prescription medication addiction, we asked people in recovery and their health professionals to talk about their experiences. This is Faces of Recovery.

Prescription Medication Addiction

Faces of Recovery: ‘On Addiction’

Too many Australians are dying due to accidental prescription medication overdose.


Prescription opioids were involved in 70% of accidental opioid overdose deaths in Australia in 2013, making it a bigger killer than heroin or other illicit drugs.

What are opioids and why is their use becoming a problem in Australia?

Opioid medications are narcotics and include drugs such as heroin and morphine. Some of the more common opioids you may have heard of are:

+ codeine (e.g. Panadeine Forte or Nurofen Plus)

+ oxycodone (e.g. OxyContin, Endone or Targin), and

+ fentanyl (e.g. Durogesic, Fentanyl Sandoz Patches)


Opioids are usually safe to use for moderate to severe acute pain in low doses for a short time. However, these medications can also be highly addictive, particularly if used for a long period of time.


Australia is currently experiencing an opioid epidemic with the majority of overdose deaths in Australia (71 per cent in 2014) due to prescription medications.


According to the Penington Institute, in just 10 years from 2004 to 2014, drug related deaths due to prescription medications increased by 201 percent.


To put this in perspective, in Victoria alone more people are dying from prescription medication overdose than on our roads.

Who can become addicted to prescription medications?

The short answer? Anyone.


Dependence and addiction are health conditions that do not discriminate. This means that it is possible for you, a family member, friend, neighbour or work colleague to become dependent or or addicted to these medications.


If you answer yes to any of the below questions,  you may be at risk of dependence and it’s important to speak with your GP.


– Do you find that you’re taking more than the prescribed dose of opioid medication to treat your pain?

– Do you feel that you’re having to go to more than one pharmacy or back to your GP frequently to get the amount of medication you need?

– Do you feel that your pain and your mood actually get worse if you don’t take your medication?

– Do you feel judged or ashamed when your pharmacist or GP wants to discuss how much medication you are buying or using?

– Do you begin to feel highly anxious about not being able to get your medication and that you need it to function in daily life?

Opioid dependence is a medical condition that can happen to anyone, and there is no shame in seeking treatment for it.


If you answered yes to any of the above questions, ask your GP about the many very effective treatments available.

How does prescription medication addiction happen?

It is very common for people who have been prescribed these medications by their health professional to become dependent or addicted to using them, particularly if they’re using them regularly or for a long time.


It is possible to become dependent on opioid medications without realising it. The body can develop a tolerance which lessens the medication’s effectiveness and means more and more is needed to get the same pain relief. When use stops suddenly, withdrawal symptoms can occur such as:

+ head and muscle aches

+ mood swings

+ insomnia

+ nausea

+ diarrhoea

It’s important to talk with your GP or another medical professional if you think you may need help.

Reducing Stigma

A recent study by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre found that Australians may opt for secrecy rather than seeking support due to the stigma around prescription opioid treatment.


Just like other medical conditions such as diabetes or asthma, prescription medication dependence and addiction has many effective treatment options.

Faces of Recovery: ‘On stigma’

Prescription medication addiction can happen to anyone. It is a common consequence of being prescribed potentially addictive medications.

Let’s talk about prescription medication addiction to ensure our loved ones can get the help they need.

Treatment Options

It’s really important to start a conversation with your doctor if you are concerned about your opioid use.


There are a number of different ways to treat opioid dependence, and it is treated in a similar way to other long-term health conditions.


Treatment options may include:

+ Medication-assisted treatment

+ Counselling

+ In-patient or residential treatment programs

+ Detoxification (with medical guidance)

If you think you may have a problem with your medication use, have a talk with your GP. Some examples of what you might say are:

+ I am concerned about my health due to my opioid use

+ I think I may have become dependent on my opioid medication. Can you please help me understand what I can do next?


It can also be really helpful to have support from family and friends if you’re concerned about your health. Talk with someone you trust about what’s happening, or invite them to come to the doctors with you.

Call a helpline



There are also a number of help lines you can call if you are concerned about your codeine use. These services are free (from a landline), anonymous and confidential and you’ll be talking to a professional counsellor experienced in drug and alcohol-related issues.

DirectLine (VIC): 1800 888 236

Alcohol and Drug Information Service

(NSW): 1800 422 599

(TAS): 1800 811 994

(NT): 1800 629 683

(WA): 1800 198 024 and for parents 1800 653 203

(QLD): 1800 177 833

(ACT): 02 6205 4545

(SA): 1300 131 340


You can also contact CounsellingOnline 24 hours, 7 days a week, anywhere in Australia for free online advice about alcohol and drug-related issues: www.counsellingonline.org.au