Objective: To identify prescription drug-seeking behaviour patterns among young people who subsequently died of heroin-related overdose.
Design: Linkage of Medicare and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and Coroner's Court records from Victoria.
Subjects: Two hundred and two 15-24-year-olds who died of heroin-related overdose between 6 January 1994 and 6 October 1999.
Main outcome measures: Patterns of use of medical services and prescription drugs listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in the years before death, and use of all drugs just before death.
Results: Polydrug use was reported in 90% of toxicology reports, and prescription drugs were present in 80% of subjects. Subjects accessed medical services six times more frequently than the general population aged 14-24 years, and more than half of all prescribed drugs were those prone to misuse, such as benzodiazepines and opioid analgesics. A pattern of increasing drug-seeking behaviour in the years before death was identified, with doctor-visitation rates, number of different doctors seen and rates of prescriptions peaking in the year before death.
Conclusions: An apparent increase in "doctor shopping" in the years before heroin-related death may reflect the increasing misuse of prescription drugs, but also an increasing need for help. Identification of a pattern of escalating doctor shopping could be an opportunity for intervention, and potentially, reduction in mortality.