WA health officials are warning of growing prescription fraud, after issuing 14 global alerts to pharmacists in the past year because of major incidents involving stolen script pads.
The Health Department says scripts for the powerful painkillers oxycodone and morphine are the most forged but an increasing number are for alprazolam, a tranquiliser from the group of drugs benzodiazepines, which is used to treat anxiety and sleep problems.
Last week, the Commonwealth Health Department upgraded alprazolam to a restricted Schedule 8 drug because of its widespread abuse and potentially lethal toxic effects when people overdose on it.
Pharmacy Guild of WA branch president Lenette Mullen said the problem was escalating and whereas once most were obtained for personal drug dependence, more were being acquired for the profitable black market.
"We know those forging scripts are becoming more sophisticated, and the forgeries harder to detect," she said.
"Sometimes pharmacists alert us to suspected forgery and the guild will contact the doctor to confirm someone's using their script pad for fraudulent script, and often this is the first the doctor realises a script pad or forms are missing."
Writing in the doctors' magazine Medical Forum, Health Department pharmacist Jane Carpenter said there were hundreds of reports each year about forged scripts for Schedule 8 drugs but these were likely to represent only a fraction of the drugs going into the illicit market.
Usually prescription stationery was stolen, often from a doctor's home or car, but more recently forgeries were done by using sheets of printer stationery that could go missing unnoticed.
Australian Medical Association WA president Richard Choong said the problem was worsening and required vigilance by health authorities, doctors and pharmacists.