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More and more pharmaceuticals are being prescribed each year in New Zealand and around the world. This research by Samuel Andrews examined the issue among university students in New Zealand and found that using prescription drugs recreationally was common - 30% in lifetime. Download the full report on the link below.
This aligns with the emergence of an additional purpose for pharmaceutical drugs for enhancement or improvement rather than to cure. The increased volume and changed nature of the drugs has given cause for concern around the misuse of these medications.
Prescription drug misuse is when medications are used recreationally, in a way that was not prescribed. The cause for concern is the highly addictive nature of some of the drugs, the risk of overdose and driving while impaired.
The United States is a cautionary tale of high volumes of prescribing, highly potent and addictive drugs and a weak regulatory system with fatal drug overdoses being the leading cause of preventable deaths in some states.
In New Zealand prescription drug misuse is an issue and is likely to become increasingly problematic. Being geographically isolated means prescription drugs are expensive, of variable quality and with the rise of new products largely unpredictable. Prescription drugs, if intended to be used recreationally, are predictable with consistent dosages, have significantly lower criminal penalties if unlawfully possessed and are more widely available.
The study found that use was largely opportunistic, infrequent, covered a range of drug types, used among friends and was either a left-over supply from a legitimate prescription or gifted from a friend. It was seen to be relatively socially acceptable and little indication of dependence or short term harm. However poly drug use was very common, snorting was a common method of use and there was indications of self-medication.
Prescription drug misuse blurs the traditional division of illegal and legal drugs. This issue will increase with greater volumes prescribed, a lack of regulation of the pharmaceutical industry, and an unpredictable black market. Current efforts have only focused on tightening prescribing systems. More investment needs to made in research that considered why and how people misuse prescription drugs along with education around addictive potential and practice of prescribers.