A Curtin University study has found misuse of legally prescribed and over-the-counter (OTC) medications is most common in hospitality and blue-collar occupations.

The study revealed that during 2001-2010 around 3.7 per cent of all working-age individuals had consumed some form of pharmaceutical medication for non-medicinal purposes.

Professor Mark Harris from Curtin University said the findings reveal hospitality and blue-collar jobs are high risk industries, while people working in jobs of higher authority were generally found not to be associated with legally prescribed and OTC medication misuse.

“Construction workers have been related to misuse of pharmaceutical drugs, and those employed in the arts and recreational industry as other high risk groups.

“The misuse of pharmaceutical drugs such as pain killers and analgesics, tranquilisers and sleeping pills, steroids and other opiates is an apparent concern in the workplace, given the losses in productivity and associated workplace risks,” Professor Harris said.

The study confirmed workplace pressures, cultural norms and working conditions are contributing factors associated with drug misuse.

“Even though various measures are in place to monitor and deter drug misuse among workers, such as prohibitive legislation and guidelines to assist employees formulate their own drug testing policies, there is a need to acknowledge the challenges involved in attempting to tackle this problem.”

Prof Harris said the misuse of pharmaceutical drugs is a growing trend, and is due to the accessibility of OTC medicines and people’s perception that they are safe.

“Monitoring the consumption of legally-available drugs is difficult to carry out and exacerbating the situation is the growing availability of drugs online.

“Implementing educational programs and workplace testing procedures may deter employees engaging in drug misuse,” said Prof Harris.

“By providing a statistical profile of the prevalence of drug misuse among the Australian workforce, this study offers a useful contribution towards tackling this serious issue.”

The NPS recently launched an online course for pharmacists ‘Drug misuse: implications for pharmacists’ to help curtail the harm from misuse of pharmaceutical medications.

The free Group 2 CPD accredited activity forms part of the National Pharmaceutical Drug Misuse Framework for Action, under the Department of Health’s National Drug strategy.