Prescribing Death: Australia’s prescription drug crisis – The Feed

Prescribing Death: Australia’s prescription drug crisis – The Feed


Obviously I’ve seen his films but I don’t sit down and watch them – it’s kind of hard. Sometimes it’s just nicer to remember him how he was as a young man and as a beautiful individual rather than seeing it plastered up there. No death is a good thing but the way you learn about it is something you never forget. Never will. Switched the television on and there’s my son’s body being placed into an emergency services vehicle. We all were just trying to call him. “Pick up Heath, pick up, what the hell’s going on?” You know, we didn’t believe it. His sister Kate was really the last one to speak to him and warn him not to mix prescription medications with sleeping tablets he was wanting to take. It was just the crazy concoction of all of those chemicals that caused his body to just go to sleep, to shut down. You know just… Absolutely accidental. This was a young man in the prime of his life. People do not realise how dangerous these drugs can be. In Victoria alone we lose a plane load of people every year through this overdose of prescription medication. And many more Australians live with long-term addiction to drugs dished out by doctors. I hit a little ten-foot kicker. As I came down, my legs from the knee down stayed in the one position and I did a 360. That was when I was prescribed Endone. Pure euphoria. Just the way it could just take all my pain away. After that, I went back for refills even though I wasn’t in pain. I kinda started doctor shopping. I was like, this is great. Rorke was a delightful little boy. Just had this really cool, laid-back thing about him. He was nicknamed Rock-and-Roll Rorke. Look, golden child! I was never really into drugs or even drinking. Like, I wasn’t a drinker. I was just me, you know? At my heaviest days I’d go through a box a day of OxyNorms. I was mixing that with benzodiazepines. That kind of fucked my whole life up. I couldn’t hold down a job. Ended up in rehab, and I didn’t care. I honestly didn’t care if lived or died. One day he rang me and he said “Mum, I think I’ve got a problem with prescription drugs.” He looked like a heroin addict. It would have been a matter of weeks that that happened. For some people this can be as short as a few days. Their bodies and their brains will say, “Well I want to keep having that.” And in order to get the same effect, the same relief you need to take more. The other thing is when you try and stop you get significant withdrawal symptoms. A lot goes through my mind when I come out here. How we could let that happen to him. I’m visiting my son Izac. He was playing AFL and hurt his back. I guess we trusted in the medical profession that he was receiving the right help. Izac was working at the Tumbarumba Hotel, he was living in town with his girlfriend, they were very happy together. He was six weeks off his 21st birthday so he was planning that. He was talking to me about having the party and he said ring me tomorrow, and we signed off like we always do. Love you, love you too Mum. And that was the last time I spoke to him. That night Izac worked a shift at the Tumbarumba Hotel and then went home with his girlfriend around midnight. He woke early the following morning. Leaving his girlfriend to sleep in, he went to the lounge room. It was a beautiful autumn day, and the phone rang. I picked it up and it was his girlfriend’s dad. The rest of it was all a blur. When we arrived the ambulance was there and the lights, the lights were off. So I knew as soon as we got there, because the lights were off that my boy was inside and he wasn’t alive. The coroner’s report described the scene. The coroner concluded Izac’s death was caused by There’s the list of medications they found, a whole list here and it goes over the page as well. All legal drugs. I wanted to understand why a 20 year old had been prescribed that range and that volume of drugs. I couldn’t believe the amounts of these pills my son was taking. I had to go with him to the doctor who was prescribing him the drugs. He said, “I’ve just got government approval for him to have like six months supply of it.” And I said, “My son has got a raging addiction to these drugs, he could die.” We have a system set up where it is cheaper and quicker and easier for me to write a script for opioids than it is to support my patients to go to hydrotherapy, physiotherapy, exercise physiologists. It’s a broken system that drives the prescribing. Doctors now write around 14 million prescriptions for opioids each year. Why has it happened is a really interesting thing. From the late ’90s, we’ve had tablets, oral tablets, that are opioid based. We’ve not had those in the past. And we had this idea that was sold to us that these tablets would cure peoples’ chronic pain. The problem is that there is no evidence to support it and what we’re finding now is increasingly the benefit of using those medications for chronic pain versus the risk clearly it’s outweighed. The government has committed $16 million to software for the scheme to blacklist prescription addicts. In July, after years of lobbying by organisations like Script Wise the federal government announced funding for a real-time monitoring system to make it harder for doctor shoppers to score meds. Real time prescribing is part of the solution but we need more support, we need more training for doctors around how do we do this? If you have someone that is already an addict once this comes in, then what’s going to happen to them? Are they going to go to a doctor who will look it up and say “I’m sorry, not going to treat you, you’re an addict.” For me, that is a tragedy. If I’d had knowledge of just how addictive these drugs are I would definitely never have taken them. I became like a monster. Full of hatred, full of pain, just like a beast. I’ve wanted to walk away, but I have to find a way to make him believe, somehow, that he can get through this. Otherwise, he’ll die, and that’s not acceptable. My mum’s literally saved my life. I am re-learning how to feel and, yeah, basically live. I’ve got a long way to go. But compared to this time last year I feel like a completely different person.

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