Drug Safety

, Volume 38, Issue 6, pp 553–564 | Cite as

Harmonizing Post-Market Surveillance of Prescription Drug Misuse: A Systematic Review of Observational Studies Using Routinely Collected Data (2000–2013)

  • Bianca Blanch
  • Nicholas A. Buckley
  • Leigh Mellish
  • Andrew H. Dawson
  • Paul S. Haber
  • Sallie-Anne Pearson
Systematic Review



Prescription drug misuse is a growing public health concern globally. Routinely collected data provide a valuable tool for quantifying prescription drug misuse.


To synthesize the global literature investigating prescription drug misuse utilizing routinely collected, person-level prescription/dispensing data to examine reported measures, documented extent of misuse and associated factors.


The MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, MEDLINE In Process, Scopus citations and Google Scholar databases were searched for relevant articles published between 1 January 2000 and 31 July 2013. A total of 10,803 abstracts were screened and 281 full-text manuscripts were retrieved. Fifty-two peer-reviewed, English-language manuscripts met our inclusion criteria—an aim/method investigating prescription drug misuse in adults and a measure of misuse derived exclusively from prescription/dispensing data.


Four proxies of prescription drug misuse were commonly used across studies: number of prescribers, number of dispensing pharmacies, early refills and volume of drugs dispensed. Overall, 89 unique measures of misuse were identified across the 52 studies, reflecting the heterogeneity in how measures are constructed: single or composite; different thresholds, cohort definitions and time period of assessment. Consequently, it was not possible to make definitive comparisons about the extent (range reported 0.01–93.5 %), variations and factors associated with prescription drug misuse.


Routine data collections are relatively consistent across jurisdictions. Despite the heterogeneity of the current literature, our review identifies the capacity to develop universally accepted metrics of misuse applied to a core set of variables in prescription/dispensing claims. Our timely recommendations have the potential to unify the global research field and increase the capacity for routine surveillance of prescription drug misuse.



The authors would like to thank Matthew Davis for assistance in refining the search strategies and for technical support.


This research has been supported, in part, by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Centre of Research Excellence in Medicines (APP1060407). Bianca Blanch is supported by a University of Sydney Postgraduate Award (2013–2016); Sallie-Anne Pearson is supported by a Cancer Institute New South Wales Career Development Fellowship (ID: 12/CDF/2-25); Nicholas Buckley and Andrew Dawson receive support for toxicovigilance studies through an NHMRC Program Grant (1055176); and Andrew Dawson is also supported by an NHRMC practitioner fellowship (1059542).

Conflict of interest

Bianca Blanch, Nicholas Buckley, Leigh Mellish, Andrew Dawson, Paul Haber and Sallie-Anne Pearson have no conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this study.

Supplementary material

40264_2015_294_MOESM1_ESM.docx (484 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 483 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bianca Blanch
    • 1
  • Nicholas A. Buckley
    • 2
  • Leigh Mellish
    • 1
  • Andrew H. Dawson
    • 3
    • 4
  • Paul S. Haber
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
  • Sallie-Anne Pearson
    • 1
    • 5
  1. 1.Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmaceutical Policy Research Group, Faculty of PharmacyUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.School of Pharmacology, Sydney Medical SchoolUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  3. 3.Royal Prince Alfred HospitalCamperdownAustralia
  4. 4.Sydney Medical SchoolUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  5. 5.School of Public HealthUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia

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