4377.0 - National Health Survey: Use of Medications, Australia, 1995  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 13/11/1998   
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November 13, 1998
Embargoed: 11:30 AM (AEST)
Taking our medicine, nationally

With National Medicines Week winding up tomorrow, the Australian Bureau of Statistics has drawn on the 1995 National Health Survey for the following revealing details about the way Australians use medication.

Almost 12.4 million people in Australia (69% of the population) had used some form of medication in any two weeks during 1995. The National Health Survey survey found that 59% had used prescribed or non-prescribed medications, 26% used vitamins and minerals and 9% used herbal or natural preparations for health related purposes. This was a similar level of usage to that recorded in a previous survey in 1989-90.

The most commonly used medications were pain relievers, used by 24% of the population in a two week period. Medicines for heart problems or blood pressure were the most common medications used on prescription or medical advice. Most commonly used prescribed and non-prescribed medications were:

Medically prescribed or advised Non-prescribed
Heart problems/blood pressure 11%
Pain relievers 8%
Asthma medications 7%
Pain relievers 17%
Skin ointments/creams 4%
Medicines for coughs and colds 4%

For most types of medications, usage by males and females was similar. However, more females than males used pain relievers (27% and 20% respectively). The proportion of people using medication increased steadily with age, from 51% of those aged less than 15 years to 91% of those aged 65 years or more.

Appropriate use of medication by older people is a major public health concern. As the proportion of people using medication increases with age, so does the number of medications taken. In 1995, of those aged 65 years or more who used prescribed or non-prescribed medication in the previous two weeks, 36% used four or more different types of medication, and 14% used six or more.

Medications used by people in the older age groups largely reflected the medical conditions more prevalent in older age. For example, around 30% of those aged 55 - 64 years used medications for heart problems/blood pressure, increasing to 47% of those aged 65-74 years, and 53% of those aged 75 years and over. Other medications commonly used by the older age groups included pain relievers (19% of people aged 65 years or more), medications for arthritis (14% ), fluid tablets/diuretics (13%) and stomach medications (12%).

Just over 10% of people aged 65 years or more used sleeping medications, tranquillisers or sedatives. Use of vitamins and minerals was primarily for preventive health reasons, rather than the treatment of particular conditions.

Almost 3 in 4 people aged 65 years or more had used at least one prescribed or non-prescribed medication regularly for 6 months or more. Long-term regular use was found for most medication types. For example, of those using medications for heart problems or blood pressure, 93% had regularly used the medication for 6 months or more, as had 91% of those using fluid tablets or diuretics, and 70% of those using medications for arthritis.

Selected National Health Survey results about medication use will be contained in the publication National Health Survey: Use of Medications, 1995 (cat. no. 4377.0) to be issued early in 1999.