Opioids and benzodiazepines

Opioids and benzodiazepines, what are the real risks?

When they’re used as advised by health professionals, pharmaceutical drugs can be effective and safe.

But, just because they’re available on prescription, it doesn’t mean they can’t be harmful.

We’re going to share some info on the harms prescriptions drugs can cause and show you where to find resources to help reduce some of the potential risks.

The harm pharmaceutical drugs can cause

In Australia, more drug induced deaths are caused by prescription drugs than illegal drugs.

What’s more, as many as 1 in 9 (11.7%) of Australians aged 14 and over have used a pharmaceutical for non-medical purposes in their lifetime.

This means they could be taking a higher dosage than prescribed, sharing prescribed medicine with others or combining other drugs with their prescription.

This is often referred to as the non-prescribed use of pharmaceutical drugs, or non-medical use of pharmaceutical drugs.

Opioid painkillers and benzodiazepines (sometimes referred to as benzos) are the pharmaceutical drugs with the highest non-prescribed use in Australia.

Both opioids and benzos can be used safely with a prescription.

But they pose many risks when used incorrectly.

  • Opioid Painkillers - This includes morphine, codeine, oxycodone and fentanyl. All these drugs can be legally prescribed, usually to manage pain. They also stimulate the release of a substance in our brain called dopamine, which causes a sensation of pleasure.
  • Benzodiazepines (Benzos) - This includes Valium and Xanax. These drugs are minor tranquilisers and prescribed to manage stress, anxiety and insomnia. They basically slow down the workings of the brain. This can sometimes cause side effects like dizziness, drowsiness, poor concentration and a lack of coordination.
  • Polydrug use - Prescription medications are sometimes taken at the same time with alcohol or in combination with illicit drugs. This can put people at increased risk of a range of harms, depending on a number of variables including the drug effects and the amount taken.

Everyone has the power to make a difference

If you’re concerned about the non-prescribed use of pharmaceutical drugs in your community, you can start to make a difference today.

Our Community Hub has many free, evidence-based resources you can use to get started.

The Alcohol and Drug Foundation’s new Community Hub is packed with free and easy to follow resources to help you connect with your community to minimise the harms caused by non-prescribed pharmaceutical drug use as well as alcohol and illicit drugs.

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More information

ADF DrugInfo line: 1300 85 85 84 - Free, confidential and non-judgmental telephone and email information, advice and referral service.

National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline: 1800 250 015 - Free and confidential, 24/7 information, support and referrals. You will be automatically directed to the Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) in the state/territory you are calling from.

Family Drug Support: 1300 368 186

Family Drug Help: 1300 660 068

Reconnexion: 1300 273 266 - Benzodiazepine treatment, support and information line.

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