Prescribing practices not up to speed

15 Nov 2002

A new study of the licit psychostimulants dexamphetamine and methylphenidate, with the street name 'kiddy speed', showed Aussie kids diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are the third highest consumer group in the world

These disturbing statistics from a first international comparison raise questions of their misuse.

The findings of the study by Constantine Berbatis and Bruce Sunderland in the School of Pharmacy at the Curtin University of Technology in Perth and Max Bulsara from the University of Western Australia's School of Population Health, were published in the current edition of the Medical Journal of Australia.

"While the drugs provide effective treatment for patients who are accurately diagnosed with (ADHD) the misuse of the drugs is an issue for concern," Mr Berbatis said.

"Australia's Illicit Drug Reporting System reported a black market trade in illicit prescription amphetamines existed in all states and territories with WA in 2001 having the highest rate of prescription amphetamine-injecting users in the past six months.

"In 2000 nearly eight percent of students aged between 13 and 18 in five WA schools reported using non-medically prescribed psychostimulants in the past, mainly for non-medical reasons. In Canada with similar levels of prescription use, 8.5% students aged from 11 to 19 reported taking non-medically prescribed psychostimulants in the past 12 months.

"The international trend has seen an increase in the legal use of the drugs by an average of 12 percent per year since 1994 with the US and Canada highest.

"The consumption of legal psychostimulants in Australia is high by international standards and varies significantly between states and territories"

"Western Australia ranked first with nearly twice the consumption rate as New South Wales which ranked second and three times Victoria's consumption. We need to find the reasons for these big differences and analyse the possibly different effects.

"Dexamphetamine is the only psychostimulant drug prescribed through the PBS in Australia. It is far more used here than methylphenidate and is the reverse of other countries. These are Schedule 8 drugs, the most strictly controlled agents in the country. The prescription of these drugs is mainly controlled by specialists.

"The results call for new national prescribing standards and access to online patient data for prescribers and dispensers.

The Medical Journal of Australia is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.

CONTACT: Constantine Berbatis (08) 9271 7180 / (0407) 986 780

Judith Tokley (AMA) (02) 6270 5471 / (0408) 824 306

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