Elderly people pressured to sell prescription painkillers to cover funeral costs

Drug dealers are pressuring elderly patients into selling their prescription opioids, saying the money they get can be used to fund their funerals, it has emerged.

Dealers in Mildura in rural Victoria are loitering outside GP surgeries and pharmacies on the lookout for vulnerable older patients, according to the ABC.

“The dealers start with the charm and they start with trying to be friendly," says community pharmacist Eric Oguzkaya.

"Depending on how they go, they can start becoming threatening and asking for their medication if they are not willing to sell it straight up."

Mr Oguzkaya says looming funeral costs have been used as leverage on an elderly patient to sell their medication.

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"The dealer approached and said: 'Look, you're going to have lots of funeral bills soon, do you really want to put that burden on your family? Here's some extra money to get you through and you can save your money up so that when the end does come along, you will have the money ready’," he says.

The street value for oxycodone varies widely but it has been reported that pills trade for up to $100 each on the black market.

Families can expect to fork out a minimum of $4000 for a funeral and elderly patients fear imposing those costs onto loved ones, says AMA vice-president Dr Tony Bartone.

“The elderly population is doing it tough so they are very vulnerable to the sort of tactics being described by this pharmacist.

“Medications do have a value, unfortunately, with the more nefarious members of the community.”

Dr Bartone is calling on the government to introduce mandatory, real-time prescription monitoring to deal with the issue.

“The fact that 800 people lose their lives as a result of prescription drug overdoses every year, shows that all stakeholders involved need to come to the table and get this program happening now,” he says.

In March, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia announced it would be scrapping the real-time codeine monitoring system MedsASSIST, but changed their minds less than 24 hours later.

It had claimed the TGA's decision to upschedule the opioid from February 2017 made MedsASSIST obsolete. But it backflipped on the move after an intervention from Minister for Health Greg Hunt.

The guild’s acting national president John Dowling said he was “disturbed” by the reports of on-selling.

“Any person approached to on-sell a medicine should immediately contact the local police and also inform their pharmacist,” Mr Dowling said.

“It is illegal and very dangerous for medicines to be used by anyone other than the person they are prescribed for."

He said MedsASSIST could be used as the basis for a wider real-time monitoring system to help reduce abuse of prescription drugs.

More information:

ABC News story