Substance use disorders

With more than three million Australians reporting the use of an illicit drug in 2016 alone, pharmacists have a significant role to play in substance abuse education, prevention and support.

Learning objectives 

After reading this article, pharmacists should be able to:

  • Discuss the use of complementary medicines in assisting with management of substance use disorders.
  • Discuss the use of N-acetylcysteine in management of substance use disorders, including its benefits and harms.
  • Recognise the role of the complementary and alternative medicine practitioner in assisting patients with substance use disorders.

Competencies (2016) addressed: 1.1, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 2.2, 3.1, 3.2, 3.5, 3.6.

According to the 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS), around 3.1 million Australians reported using an illicit drug that year. The most commonly used (at least once in the past 12 months) were cannabis (10.4%), cocaine (2.5%), and ecstasy (2.2%). Although use of crystal metamfetamine (ice) had declined (1.4%), those using it were doing so more frequently, increasing the risk of harm.1

Apart from ill effects of drugs on the body, there are general concerns regarding the use of illicit drugs such as variability in the strength of the drug from batch to batch. Also, some products may be a mix of drugs (including new psychoactive substances), binding agents, caffeine, sugar and other substances. Some users may experience allergic reactions, either to the drug itself or to additives.

The route of administration of illicit drugs can impact on their safety, as they may be swallowed, injected, smoked or snorted. Injecting drugs and sharing needles can increase the risk of hepatitis B and C, HIV/AIDS and tetanus. Smoking drugs such as cannabis, especially if combined with tobacco, may result in respiratory damage. Snorting can cause damage to the nasal cavity and sinuses.

Want to learn more? PSA members can access the full article and assessment questions here to earn up to 1.5 Group 2 CPD credits.

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