ScriptWise will address the enormity of prescription medication misuse and fatal overdose at their inaugural Australian Overdose Awareness Week 2015 (August 30 – September 6) event in Perth today (Tuesday, September 1, 2015).

ScriptWise Patron and father of the late Oscar-winning actor, Heath Ledger, who died from an accidental overdose of prescription medications in January 2008, Kim Ledger, will deliver the event’s keynote address at the Heath Ledger Theatre this evening.

According to Mr Ledger, prescription drug abuse is a spiralling public health epidemic that requires urgent attention.

“Australian fatalities from prescription medication misuse are on the rise.

“Tragically, almost four Australians die from an overdose each day, most of which are linked to prescription medications,”1 Mr Ledger said.

“Prescription medications contribute to 75 per cent of the 116 recorded fatal overdoses in Western Australia, and illicit drugs contribute to 46.6 per cent in 2013, respectively.1

“Alarmingly, recent Australian Bureau of Statistics reveal Perth has the highest rate of fatal overdose of any Australian capital city,”1 said Mr Ledger.

“In fact, West Australians are using illicit and prescription medications far too liberally.

“ScriptWise’s Australian Overdose Awareness Week serves to educate the community about the risks and dangers of medication misuse and overdose; to empower consumers, by arming them with valuable information and knowledge regarding the addictive nature of medications; and to urge doctors and pharmacists to work collaboratively, to tackle this immense public health issue,” Mr Ledger said.

In his keynote address, Mr Ledger will reflect on the heart-wrenching process that he and his family endured, following the sudden, tragic passing of Heath, and the realisation that prescription medication misuse is a universal problem.

“ScriptWise was born from the energy of many Australian families who have lost a child or relative to the misuse of prescription medication,” said Mr Ledger.

“In Australia alone, there are around 10 million prescriptions written for benzodiazepines each year.2

“One-in-50 Aussies are currently taking these medications for longer than six months, and they are extremely addictive,”2 Mr Ledger said.

“What we need is real-time prescription monitoring of prescription medications available for prescribing doctors, at the point-of-care, in Australia as well as grassroots education to curb the rising death toll.”

Reports reveal 2.1 million Australians aged 14 and above use prescription medication for non-medical purposes.3 In particular, Australians are the second highest users of prescribed opioids – powerful medications commonly used to treat chronic pain – worldwide.3,4 

“With prescription medication misuse and addiction on the rise, it’s time to educate and inform Australians about the potential dangers and risks of misusing certain prescription medications, particularly opioids and benzodiazepines, and to inform healthcare professionals about the type of treatments available to help prevent overdose-related deaths, in order to ultimately save lives,” said ScriptWise CEO, Ms Bee Mohamed. 

“A coordinated approach is not only pivotal to preventing prescription medication addiction and overdose, but also for ensuring treatment options are made available to patients at-risk of prescription medication addiction.

“Despite the low prevalence of use, the economic and social cost of opioid drug use is relatively high,” Ms Mohamed said.

According to Dr Steve Wilson, AMA WA Council of General Practice Chair and General Practitioner, Bassendean Total Health Care, Perth, around 30 per cent of individuals who are prescribed long-term opioid treatment meet criteria for lifetime opioid dependence.5,6 Those with a history of a substance use disorder have a higher risk of developing opioid dependence.6                                                                                                                                                                             

“In any patient, long-term opioid treatment can lead to medication associated behavioural problems, and development of opioid dependence.6                

“Opioid dependence has historically, been linked to illicit heroin use. However, over the past 15 years in Australia, we’ve seen a marked increase in the use of pharmaceutical opioids, both prescribed and over-the-counter, usually for chronic pain,6” said Dr Wilson.

“Overdose-related deaths for people with opioid dependence typically happens in combination with other sedative drugs including benzodiazepines, or antidepressants and also alcohol.6

“Like other chronic medical conditions including diabetes and asthma, opioid dependence is considered, by doctors, to be a long-term medical condition that can be treated effectively,7” Dr Wilson said.

“Treatment for opioid dependence includes counselling, residential rehabilitation and Opioid Substitution Therapy, which is a long-term approach involving the use of alternative medication to help patients engage in long-term care plans.7 

Kim Brotherson, Managing Director of the Pharmacy 777 Group and a supporter of ScriptWise’s inaugural Australian Overdose Awareness Week, is joining Mr Ledger on this evening’s panel. According to Mr Brotherson, the misuse of prescription medications is a complex issue, with multiple factors at play. Mr Brotherson is calling for heightened collaboration between GPs and pharmacists to help manage the issue, citing “the often short period of time that a patient has to discuss complex problems with their GP, with a follow-up visit often occurring weeks or months later.

“Patients often need multiple health professionals to support their recovery or management of chronic health conditions.7

“As a medication expert, the pharmacist plays a significant role in ensuring the quality use of medicines,” Mr Brotherson said.

“Worryingly, dependence on some of these medications can occur within only four weeks.

“Managing pain is also a complex area and often, through no fault of the patient, dependence can occur with opioids,” said Mr Brotherson.

Mr Brotherson also claims more could be done at post- hospital discharge to better manage patient misuse of medications.

“Patients are often confused with regard to their medication regime and can unintentionally double-up on medications and therefore, not achieve the expected therapeutic outcomes.

“A coordinated approach is pivotal to addressing prescription medication addiction and overdose, and for ensuring treatment options are made available to those in need,” Mr Brotherson said. 

For more information about Australian Overdose Awareness Week, or to register for the event, visit

About Australian Overdose Awareness Week 2015

The key objective of Australian Overdose Awareness Week is to educate the community about the dangers and risks of medication misuse and overdose; to empower consumers by providing them with information and knowledge around the addictive nature of medications; and to engage pharmacists and doctors to work together, to address this growing epidemic with their communities.

About ScriptWise

ScriptWise is a not-for-profit organisation committed to raising public awareness of prescription medication addiction. Pharmaceutical drug dependence is a hidden public health epidemic in Australia and must be acknowledged. ScriptWise  provides national leadership in advancing the voices, experiences and concerns of individuals and their families who have been affected by both fatal and non-fatal prescription medication overdose.8