Prescription medication harms in Australia

Increasing harms due to high-risk prescription medications is a health emergency in Australia that’s affecting many families and individuals. According to the AIHW, about 1 million Australians reported recent non-medical use of a pharmaceutical medication.


In Victoria alone, the number of people lost to prescription medication overdoses exceeds the road toll and has done for the last 5 years.

Prescription medications causing the problem

Prescription medications have an essential role in health care. However, when certain high-risk medications are used long-term, or are accidentally or intentionally misused, their effects can be very dangerous and even fatal.


Opioid and benzodiazepine medications are the key contributors to the increasing number of overdose fatalities in Australia.

Community toolkits

Find out more about prescription opioids, benzodiazepines and combined use below.

What is prescription medication dependence?

People who have been prescribed these medications by their health professional can become dependent on using them, particularly if they’re using them regularly or for a long time.


The risks of developing dependence can be increased if you have a family or personal history of alcohol or other drug problems, history of abuse or co-existing chronic pain or under-treated mental health conditions.


It is possible to become dependent on opioid or benzodiazepine 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 effect. When use stops suddenly, withdrawal symptoms can happen.

Talk with your GP or another medical professional if you think you may need help.


 Your health professional can help you arrange a thorough assessment of what you’re experiencing, and tailor a treatment plan to help. They can also help to reduce the risks associated with using opioids and benzodiazepines.


Some examples of what you might say are:


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

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


You can also listen to personal stories about the recovery process here.