Drug sourcing and motivations among a sample of people involved in the supply of pharmaceutical drugs in Australia

Shann Hulme, Caitlin Elizabeth Hughes, Suzanne Nielsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The non-medical use (NMU) of pharmaceuticals is increasing internationally, along with mortality. Previous research indicates that end-users access pharmaceuticals through social networks, however little is known about supplier sources particularly outside the US. This study examined sourcing and motivations among a sample of people involved in pharmaceutical diversion and supply in Australia.

Methods: Semi-structured, telephone interviews were conducted with 51 people involved in supplying pharmaceuticals in the previous six months. Multi-stage recruitment involved the distribution of flyers to participants of two Australian drug-monitoring programs: the Ecstasy and related Drugs Reporting System (capturing regular psycho-stimulant users) and the Illicit Drug Reporting System (capturing people who regularly inject drugs), followed by a screening of interested participants. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed and analysed using a mixed methods approach. First, correlates of drug sourcing and motivations were examined including demographics, frequency and quantity of supply. Second, thematic analysis of the qualitative data was undertaken on strategies for obtaining the drugs and motivating factors.

Results: Drug supplies were sourced from a variety of medical and non-medical sources, primarily legitimately obtained prescriptions (47%), friends or family (18%) and dealers (14%). Suppliers using medical sources were more likely to be unemployed/retired and reported supplying for therapeutic purposes, while suppliers using non-medical sources were more likely to be employed/students, earned higher incomes and reported supplying for recreational purposes. Those who sourced via doctor shopping (IRR = 47.5) and friends and family (IRR = 10.1) distributed higher quantities, while those who sourced legitimately obtained prescriptions (IRR = 0.1) and from illicit drug dealers (IRR = 0.0) distributed lower quantities. Similar proportions supplied for financial (65%) and altruistic (61%) reasons, however the latter supplied lower quantities (IRR = 0.1).

Conclusion: This study offers novel insight into the diversion of pharmaceuticals from the supplier perspective. A nuanced policy approach is required to address varied supply practices by source and motive.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)38-47
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Drug dealing
  • Non-medical use
  • Pharmaceutical black market
  • Pharmaceutical diversion
  • Pharmaceutical misuse
  • Social supply


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