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Trends over time in characteristics of pharmaceutical drug-related ambulance attendances in Melbourne.

Lloyd BK, McElwee PR

  • Journal Drug and alcohol review

  • Published 22 Mar 2012

  • Volume 30

  • ISSUE 3

  • Pagination 271-80

  • DOI 10.1111/j.1465-3362.2011.00292.x


There is growing concern regarding pharmaceutical drug-related harms. Evidence suggests increasing non-medical use of pharmaceutical drugs, along with associated morbidity and mortality. This paper explores trends of pharmaceutical-related ambulance attendances over the past decade in order to identify populations experiencing acute harm, and levels of harms in the community.

A retrospective analysis of pharmaceutical drug-related ambulance attendances in metropolitan Melbourne, Australia, is presented, with rates of attendances over the period 2000 to 2009 and change over time examined. Characteristics of attendances are explored to understand the nature of presentation and demographic characteristics.

Benzodiazepines represented the drug group with the highest rates of attendances over the 10 year period. Rates of attendances increased significantly for opioid analgesics, while significant decreases were noted for benzodiazepines, antidepressant and anticonvulsants. While women represented the majority of patients for each drug category presented over the period examined, there was an increase in the proportion of men attended in relation to opioid analgesics. Alcohol involvement in presentations has increased significantly for all drug groups.

Increasing pharmaceutical-related ambulance attendances for opioid analgesics reflect increasing use, with the increase in other analgesic-related attendances also concerning. The overrepresentation of female patients reflects a population experiencing drug-related harm not reflected in illicit drug research. The rise of alcohol involvement represents heightened risk of adverse events including death, and suggests an area for public education to prevent alcohol and drug-related harms.