A national census of medicines use: a 24-hour snapshot of Australians aged 50 years and older

Tessa K Morgan, Margaret Williamson, Marie Pirotta, Kay Stewart, Stephen P Myers and Joanne Barnes
Med J Aust 2012; 196 (1): 50-53. || doi: 10.5694/mja11.10698


Objective: To explore the current use of conventional and complementary medicines in Australians aged ≥ 50 years.

Design, setting and participants: Cross-sectional postal survey sent to a random sample of 4500 Australians aged ≥ 50 years between June 2009 and February 2010.

Main outcome measures: Prevalence of medicines use, reasons for medicines use and sources of medicines.

Results: Response rate was 37.3%. Medicines use was very common; 87.1% of participants took one or more medicines and 43.3% took five or more in the previous 24 hours. Complementary medicines were used by 46.3% of participants, 87.4% of whom used both conventional and complementary medicines. The most commonly used medicines were antihypertensive agents (43.2% of participants), natural marine and animal products including fish oil and glucosamine (32.4%) and lipid-lowering agents (30.4%). Doctors recommended 79.3% of all medicines and 93.0% of conventional medicines. Pharmacists commonly recommended occasional medicines (ie, as needed), while friends, family and media most often influenced use of complementary medicines.

Conclusions: The use of multiple medicines is common and higher than reported in the 1995 National Health Survey. Today, much medicines use is to prevent future disease by influencing risk factors. High levels of polypharmacy highlight the need to support the safe and effective use of medicines in the community. Although doctors recommend or prescribe most medicines, self-directed medication use is common. This highlights the need for consumer access to accurate information and strategies to improve health literacy about medicines.

  • Tessa K Morgan1
  • Margaret Williamson1
  • Marie Pirotta2
  • Kay Stewart3
  • Stephen P Myers4
  • Joanne Barnes5

  • 1 National Prescribing Service, Sydney, NSW.
  • 2 Department of General Practice, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC.
  • 3 Centre for Medicine Use and Safety, Monash University, Melbourne, VIC.
  • 4 School of Health and Human Sciences, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.
  • 5 School of Pharmacy, University of Auckland, Auckland, NZ.



This research was funded by the Australian Department of Health and Ageing through the National Prescribing Service and the University of Melbourne. Marie Pirotta is funded by a Primary Health Care Research Evaluation and Development fellowship. We also acknowledge the contribution of Rebecca Coleman and Liane Johnson for their advice during project development, Vinay Prasad for her support in distribution, and Jonathon Dartnell and Lynn Weekes for their thoughtful contribution to editing this article.

Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.

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