I’ve been prescribed a medicine by my doctor. How can I get more information about this medicine?

For information about medicines, including which medicine is appropriate to treat a particular condition, how to take a medicine and possible side-effects, speak to your doctor or pharmacist.

You can call the NPS Medicines Line on 1300 633 424 (hours of operation: Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm EST, excluding NSW public holidays) for information on prescription, over-the-counter and complementary (herbal, vitamin, mineral) medicines. The Medicines Line does not provide medical advice or second opinions on the medicines recommended by your health professional.

My doctor (or pharmacist) has recommended that I take a particular medicine but I’m worried about the side effects that I read about on the internet. Should I take it?

You should speak with the doctor (or pharmacist) about your concerns. If you are still concerned, get a second opinion from another doctor (or pharmacist).

You should be very cautious about any information on medicines or health which you read on the Internet, especially if it is not on a site belonging to a government body in Australia (Australia government websites typically end in ‘gov.au’). Reliable information on medicines can be found on the NPS MedicineWise website.

I think I have had a bad reaction to my medication. Who should I tell?

You should report any bad reactions to your doctor. You can also contact the Adverse Medicine Events Line on 1300 134 237. This service is for members of the general public who suspect they have experienced an adverse medicine event. The service forwards reports of suspect adverse reactions to the Therapeutic Goods Administration who monitor such reactions.

I suspect my child has swallowed a poison. Where can I get help?

If it is an emergency, call 000 (triple zero) for an ambulance.

Ring the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 for information on first aid. Poisoning advice is available on 13 11 26 anywhere in Australia 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

If you, or someone in your care, may have been poisoned, do not wait for symptoms to occur. Call for advice or go to your nearest hospital Emergency Department.

My friend has the same condition that I recently had. Can I give him my left-over medicine?

No. The medication you have been prescribed is suitable for your condition and may not be suitable for another person, even if you think they have the same problems. In some cases it may be harmful to them.

Also, it is unlawful to give (or 'supply') prescribed medication, and unlawful for someone to have (or 'possess') prescribed medication, that has not been dispensed for them on a prescription. If someone is harmed by the medication you give them, you may be held responsible for that harm.

I am travelling overseas. Can I take my prescription drugs with me?

Prior to taking or sending medicines overseas and/or bringing medicines into Australia please refer to the Therapeutic Goods Administration and Medicare Australia for further information.

I need a particular medicine but the doctor refuses to prescribe it for me. Can he be made to?

No. It is the professional decision of a doctor as to what he (or she) will or won’t prescribe for a patient. If your doctor decides not to prescribe a medicine for you, it is based on his clinical judgment of your particular case.

By law, a doctor may not issue a prescription for a medicine in a quantity or for a purpose that does not accord with recognised therapeutic standards of what is appropriate in the circumstances.

In some circumstances a doctor may have conditions imposed on his authority or registration that prohibit him or her from prescribing certain medicines. Additionally, some medications may only be prescribed by certain specialists.

My doctor has told me that the Health Department won't let him prescribe the medicine I need. Why?

Often this means that Medicare Australia has advised the doctor that the medicine requested in your particular case will not be subsidised under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). If this is the case, the doctor may write you a private prescription for the medicine but you will need to pay the full cost.

Some doctors do not have an authority to prescribe certain types of medicines (such as strong pain killers) to any patients. If this is the case and your doctor thinks that you should have this medicine, he (or she) will need to refer you to another doctor to prescribe it for you.

I don't need my medicine any more but the pharmacist told me the Health Department won't let him take it back or give me a refund for it. Why?

It is illegal for a pharmacist to re-dispense medicine that has already been dispensed to another patient. You should place your unwanted medicines in a Return of Unwanted Medicines (RUM) bin which can be found in most pharmacies.

Whether a pharmacist gives you a refund on a product is a commercial decision for the pharmacist. If you think his refusal to refund you is unreasonable, contact NSW Fair Trading on 133 230.

Why does one pharmacy charge me more than another pharmacy for my prescription medicine?

For medicines subsidised by the Commonwealth Government under the Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme (PBS), the price charged should not vary significantly between pharmacies. For a medicine subsidised under the PBS you may pay more if your doctor chooses to prescribe a particular ‘premium’ brand of medicine rather than a generic brand. Find out more about PBS listed medicines.

There are no laws governing what price may be charged for other prescription medicines and over-the-counter medicines. The Trade Practices Act prohibits retail prices being fixed.

Why do I need a prescription for some medicines and not others?

The law imposes restrictions on who can supply medicines and how they can be supplied. These restrictions are intended to prevent or reduce unsafe or harmful use of medicines, and to ensure that appropriate health professional advice is available to people before they use them.

A limited group of medicines are available over-the-counter from non-pharmacy outlets (e.g. paracetamol, aspirin). Although they can still lead to harm if used inappropriately, they are safe and effective when taken as instructed on the packaging.

Some medications do not require a prescription but are only available from a pharmacy (e.g. paracetamol-codeine preparations). This ensures that professional advice from a pharmacist is at hand when the medication is purchased.

Some medications are available by doctor's prescription only and can only be obtained from a pharmacy (e.g. antibiotics). They are restricted in this way to ensure that a patient has their condition diagnosed by a doctor who can then prescribe the most appropriate treatment. Some medications, including strong pain medicines (e.g. morphine, oxycodone), have tighter restrictions on how they can be prescribed because of their potential for abuse.

When restrictions are imposed on medications, the following things are taken into consideration:

  • the purpose of its use
  • the way it needs to be used safely and to achieve optimal health benefits
  • potential interactions with other medicines or foods
  • the extent and nature of possible side effects
  • medical conditions for which the medicine should not or must not be used('contraindications')
  • the need for professional advice in its use
  • the potential for abuse
  • the need for the drug

More information about the regulation of medicines, including prescription medicines, over-the-counter medicines, and complementary medicines, in Australia is available from the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

How do I make a complaint about a doctor or other health professional?

If you are concerned about a health service provided to you, talk to your provider as soon as possible. The Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) provides information on resolving concerns.

If you wish to lodge a complaint about any health care service (for example a doctor, nurse, dentist, pharmacist, psychologist, chiropractor, podiatrist, public or private hospital, clinics, medical centre, day surgery centre) contact the Commission's Inquiry Service on (02) 9219 7444 or 1800 043 159 (toll free) to discuss your concerns. See the Health Care Complaints Commission for more information.

If you do not wish to make a complaint against a doctor but you are concerned about that doctor’s fitness to practise because of an impairment or disorder, contact the NSW Medical Council on (02) 9879 2200.

If your complaint concerns alleged illegal supply, prescribing, storage, packaging or labelling of medicines, you may report it directly to Pharmaceutical Services (NSW Ministry of Health) by telephone (02) 9391 9944 during business hours or by email to pharmserv@doh.health.nsw.gov.au

Why are the Poisons and Therapeutic Goods laws in NSW different to other States and the Territories?

The differences in law that exist across Australia today are a product of history. Prior to Federation, each of the colonies (which would later become the States) had their own legislation controlling poisons and the practice of pharmacy. Under the Constitution of Australia, which came into effect in 1901, the Commonwealth were given only limited powers over the control of medicines. Most powers remained with the States.

Today, the Commonwealth controls the subsidisation of the cost of medicines, the registration of products and manufacturers, and the importation and exportation of medicines. The States control other aspects, and while differences remain, there has been considerable work over the last 50 years to harmonise the medicines and poisons laws in the various States.

Page Updated: Tuesday 19 November 2013