Survey finds millions of Australians misuse their medicines

NPS MedicineWise has released survey findings for Be Medicinewise Week, (21–27 August) suggesting that more than two million Australians may have exceeded the recommended daily dose of some widely used medicines.

NPS MedicineWise has released survey findings for Be Medicinewise Week, (21–27 August) suggesting that more than two million Australians may have exceeded the recommended daily dose of some widely used medicines. The survey* – conducted by Galaxy Research – indicated that millions of Australians may be putting their health at risk by taking over-the-counter or prescription medicines unsafely and disregarding dosage instructions.

The survey found that more than one in four respondents have used someone else’s prescription medicine or given their own medicines to another family member. Millennials (39%) are much more likely than Baby Boomers (19%) to swap prescription medicine, the survey found.

NPS MedicineWise CEO Dr Lynn Weekes said the survey highlights the need to discuss the ways medicine misuse can happen and how it can be prevented. Dr Weekes pointed out that not taking medicines as directed – either intentionally or unintentionally – could have dire consequences for many Australians.

“We all need to pay attention to the instructions that come with medicines or we risk exacerbating existing health problems, or having adverse health reactions that, in severe cases, can even lead to death.”

Dr Weekes said Be Medicinewise Week will alert people to these risks and encourage them to reflect on how they, or someone in their family, might be misusing their medicines.

“It’s important to stress that many people misuse their medicines unintentionally. Taking the wrong dose of medicine at the wrong time can happen if you don’t pay attention to pack information.”

Dr Weekes added “During Be Medicinewise Week there is an important conversation to have about how much harm mixing medicines can cause,” said Dr Weekes.

“If anyone is in doubt about how to take their medicines correctly we’d urge them to contact their doctor, pharmacist or call 1300 MEDICINE for the right advice as soon as possible,” said Dr Weekes.

The survey also delved into the way Australians misuse prescription painkillers and tablets containing codeine. Based on the survey responses, it suggested that:

  • more than 1.5 million Australians have taken seven or more ibuprofen + codeine tablets in a day, exceeding the recommended maximum dosage of six tablets in a 24-hour period.
  • Millennials are twice as likely as Baby Boomers to have overused ibuprofen + codeine.

*The survey of 1,000 Australians aged 18 and over was conducted by Galaxy Omnibus in July 2017. Full survey results are available on request.

Be Medicinewise Week is on 21–27 August 2017, with the theme ‘Medicine Misuse Can Happen to Anyone’. To find out more go to

The week focuses on some of the common ways people could be misusing medicines. This might be:.

  • taking medicines at the wrong time, or the wrong dose
  • taking medicines in unsafe ways such as opening capsules or cutting patches
  • sharing medicines with family or friends
  • mixing medicines, leading to incorrect dosing or side effects
  • taking medicines with other substances like illegal drugs or alcohol.


Chris Philips, a 47 year-old Sydney-sider, was bucked by a horse in 2010, rupturing a disc and fracturing a vertebrae. Some time after surgery, he experienced chronic, debilitating pain that meant he couldn’t sit or stand for more than 15 minutes at a time.

“Nothing worked to relieve my pain except painkillers. But I quickly built a tolerance to them, and every three months my doctor increased the dose. I grew depressed and I became a recluse. I didn’t want to play with my kids. I couldn’t go to work for a year,” Chris said.

To move away from pharmacological solutions to his pain, Chris used a range of pain management techniques that he practices daily.

“I pace myself so I don’t trigger a pain episode. I now have a positive attitude and stay active, and I’m almost completely drug-free,” Chris explained.

Chris is available for interview.

Follow us on Twitter @NPSMedicineWise or Facebook

Remember to use the #BeMedicinewise tag.

For information about medicines, including side effects and interactions, consumers can call 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday AEST (excluding NSW public holidays). When you call 1300 MEDICINE from all states and territories in Australia (except Queensland and Victoria), you will speak with an experienced registered nurse. Your question may be answered on the spot, or you may be referred to your GP or pharmacist, or to another health professional. If you have a complex enquiry, you may be put through to an NPS MedicineWise pharmacist.

The NPS MedicineWise Adverse Medicine Events Line (1300 134 237) is a service that encourages members of the public to report and discuss side effects that might be related to their medicine. Medicine-related side effects are reported to the TGA for assessment and contribute to national medicine safety efforts. Your personal information will remain confidential and your privacy will be maintained.

The AME Line is available Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm AEST (excluding NPS public holidays). It is not for emergencies. Alternatively you can report suspected side effects directly to the TGA via their website.

Media enquiries:

Eve Hanks 02 8217 8667, 0419 618 365 or [email protected] and Juliet Pisani-Forde (02) 8217 8249.

Independent, evidence-based and not-for-profit, NPS MedicineWise enables better decisions about medicines and medical tests.

We receive funding from the Australian Government Department of Health.