The supply of pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical use in Australia

image - Prescription 280l
Date Commenced:
March 2016
Expected Date of Completion:
July 2019
Project Supporters:

A Research Training Program Scholarship is supporting this project

Drug Type:
Project Members: 
image - Headshot Nielsen 2017 1cropped 0
Dr Suzanne Nielsen
Senior Research Fellow
image - Caitlin Hughes
Senior Lecturer
Ph 02 9385 0132
Project Main Description: 

This is the PhD project of Ms Shann Hulme.

National and international evidence indicates that the non-medical use of pharmaceutical drugs is increasing, along with the associated health, social and economic harms.

The process of obtaining pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical use involves diversion, whereby pharmaceuticals are channeled from legal sources to the illicit marketplace. Diversion is believed to occur through a number of mechanisms such as sharing between family and friends, theft, overprescribing by health practitioners, internet sales, and doctor or pharmacy shopping.

Research to date has largely focused on the demand for pharmaceutical drugs, including prevalence of misuse, motivations for use, and the associated harms. Little research has examined the supply of pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical use, particularly in the Australian context.

The aim of this research is to gain a greater understanding of the diversion of pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical use from the supply perspective. An understanding of the source and access points of pharmaceutical drugs that are used non-medically, as well as the processes and people involved in diversion is critical for informing the development of effective prevention, treatment and law enforcement interventions to address it.

Design and Method: 
  1. Systematic review and meta-analysis: International (20 years) – The source and diversion of pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical use – A review of what we know
  2. Medical supply in Australia – Secondary analysis of Australian tribunal decisions involving cases against health practitioners for misappropriating drugs or inappropriately supplying drugs to the public.
  3. Non-medical supply in Australia – Semi-structured interviews with people involved in unlawfully supplying / dealing pharmaceutical drugs across Australia.
  • Systematic review and meta-analysis completed – published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence (Mar 2018)
  • Tribunal decisions – forthcoming publication in Drug and Alcohol Review
  • Interviews (source and motives of suppliers) – published in International Journal of Drug Policy (April 2019)
  • Interviews (economic indicators of supply) – manuscript under preparation


Hulme S, Bright D & Nielsen S 2018. The source and diversion of pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical use: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Drug & Alcohol Dependence, 186: 242-256.

Hulme S, Hughes C & Nielsen S 2019. Drug sourcing and motivations among a sample of people involved in the supply of pharmaceutical drugs in Australia. International Journal of Drug Policy, 66: 38-47.

Hulme S, Hughes C & Nielsen S (forthcoming). What factors contributed to the misconduct of health practitioners? An analysis of Australian cases involving the diversion and supply of pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical use between 2010 and 2016. Drug and Alcohol Review.  

Hulme S, Hughes C & Nielsen S (in preparation). The monetary and non-monetary value of pharmaceutical drugs supplied on the black market: An Australian case study.  

Project Research Area: 
Drug Type: 
Project Status: