Recent reports suggest that the illicit use of prescription medicines, particularly pharmaceutical opioids (e.g. oxycodone), is increasing in Australia. This raises questions about how these drugs are channelled out of the medical system for unsanctioned use. The aim of the current study was to use police data to examine:
(a) whether this increase is reflected in police crime data;
(b) some of the criminal methods by which these medicines are obtained; and
(c) which particular medicines have been most commonly sought through these methods over time.
NSW Police Force narratives for events related to prescription drugs reported between 1995 and 2007 were reviewed. The offences of interest included: theft of prescription forms/pads, the presentation of forged or altered prescriptions to pharmacies, and theft of prescription drugs. Characteristics of the offences, including the types of medicines requested or stolen, were examined. The drugs most frequently sought through prescription fraud were benzodiazepines. However, in 2007 the most frequently sought drug was oxycodone. In relation to thefts, pharmacies were the most targeted premises type with opioids and benzodiazepines the most frequently stolen medicines. In 2004 and 2007 oxycodone appeared as one of the top five drugs obtained. This analysis of police data showed that a proportion of prescription drugs are diverted out of the medical system through fraud and theft-related offences and that offences involving oxycodone have increased in recent years. However, the overall number of police events related to prescription drugs was low, indicating that police data may not capture some of the key methods, such as prescription-shopping, by which prescription medicines are obtained for illicit use.