During Australia’s season of summer recreation, healthcare workers may be expecting busy periods due to the consequences from party behaviour, in line with experiences in previous years. The profile of substance abuse has changed in the decades since the average nurse or medical practitioner in Australia began practicing 25 years ago.

While consumption of alcohol has declined, it continues to contribute to a cost burden in Australia of $15.3 billion annually. This cost burden is a result of associated social problems which include crime, road accidents or lost workplace productivity; double that of illicit drugs, which have risen from the 18th greatest cost burden to 15th over two decades. Increases have occurred in the use of cannabis, cocaine, hallucinogens, solvents and inhalants; however the consumption of ‘ecstasy’ is declining. Furthermore, various drug analogues and new psychoactive substances have begun circulating.

Overseas holidays and internet shopping may introduce unexpected polypharmacy; resulting from the growing counterfeit drug market; inclusive of unregistered and undisclosed ingredients, such as the diet medicine sibutramine, known for causing psychiatric and cardiac adverse reactions.

Mixing these substances with the analogues of caffeine found in energy products and the recreational use of registered medicines, there may be an increase in headlines about the dangers of drug cocktails that are so often reported. Lessons may be learned from The United Nations World Drug Report 2014 which found Australia to have the highest overall use of illicit drugs combined with non-medical use of pharmaceutical drugs in their world survey.

During the festive season, healthcare staff managing overdose should consider drugs that may be widely available, prescribed, illicit, counterfeit, or unknown.

HPS would like to wish everyone a safe and healthy New Year.

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