In 2020–21, pharmaceuticals were reported as a drug of concern (either principal or additional) in 11% of all treatment episodes (24,200 episodes) (Table Drg.87).
- Pharmaceuticals was the principal drug of concern in 4.8% of treatment episodes (10,800 episodes) (Table Drg.87). This proportion relative to all drugs of concern has declined from 7.7% in 2011–12 (11,300 episodes).
- Consistent with previous years, pharmaceuticals were more likely to be reported as an additional rather than principal drug of concern (13,400 episodes or 6.0%) (Table Drg.87). The most common additional drugs of concern reported with pharmaceuticals were amphetamines (16% or 1,700 episodes), cannabis (15% or 1,600 episodes) and alcohol (12% or 1,300 episodes) (Figure DRUGS1; Table Drg.89).
Classification of pharmaceutical drugs in the AODTS NMDS
Pharmaceuticals are drugs that are available from a pharmacy—over the counter or by prescription—including opioids (such as codeine and oxycodone) and benzodiazepines (such as diazepam). Some pharmaceutical drug use is for non-medical purposes (MCDS 2011).
Pharmaceuticals are not listed as a broad drug group in the Australian Standard Classification of Drugs of Concern (ASCDC) classification. In the AODTS NMDS report, the ‘pharmaceuticals’ drug classification includes the following 10 drug types: codeine, morphine, buprenorphine, oxycodone, methadone, benzodiazepines, steroids, other opioids, other analgesics, and other sedatives and hypnotics. Refer to the Technical notes and Key terminology and glossary for more information.
Pharmaceuticals by drug type
In 2020–21, opioids and benzodiazepines accounted for 3 in 4 episodes provided for a pharmaceutical drug as the PDOC (74% or 8,000 episodes) (Table Drg.87). ‘Opioids’ includes codeine, morphine, buprenorphine, oxycodone, methadone and other opioids.
- Opioids as a group, were a principal drug of concern in 2.1% of all treatment episodes and an additional drug of concern in 1.7% (4,800 and 3,700 episodes, respectively). Buprenorphine (1,200 episodes), methadone (910) and oxycodone (890) were the most common drug types recorded in opioid-related treatment episodes.
- Benzodiazepine was a principal drug of concern in 1.5% of treatment episodes and an additional drug of concern in 2.7% (3,300 and 6,000 episodes, respectively).
Over the 10 years to 2020–21:
- The number of treatment episodes with pharmaceuticals as the principal drug of concern decreased slightly, from 11,300 to 10,800 episodes. Proportionally, episodes for pharmaceuticals fell from 7.7% to 4.8%.
- The number of treatment episodes for benzodiazepines initially decreased from 2,500 episodes from 2011–12 to 1,700 episodes in 2015–16, increasing to 3,300 in 2020–21.
- The number of episodes for opioids peaked at 7,700 in 2013–14 before falling to 4,800 episodes in 2020–21 but fluctuated over time by drug type (Figure PHARMS1; Table Drg.90).
Figure PHARMS1: Treatment episodes with pharmaceuticals as the principal drug of concern, relative to most common principal drugs of concern or by selected pharmaceutical drug types, 2011–12 to 2020–21 (number or per cent)