The more health issues you or the person you care for have, the more medicines likely to be taken. Understanding what can affect which medicines you are prescribed in palliative care is important. So is knowing where you can find more information to help you manage your medications.
If someone has had an overdose or suspected poisoning, call the Poisons Information Centre, 24 hours a day (phone 13 11 26).
For general emergencies call 000, 24 hours a day, and ask for an ambulance.
There are three ways that medicines might be obtained:
Medicines may come in many shapes or forms. You could take tablets, liquids, capsules, inhalers or patches. You may also use suppositories or have injections. Medicines might be taken in different ways or at different times of the day or night. As the illness progresses you may have to change how some medicines are taken. They could be taken for different reasons. Sometimes you or the person you care for may have more than one medicine to treat the same problem.
Common medicines in palliative care include:
These medicines may be given regularly to stop a problem such as pain or nausea. Others might be prescribed on a 'just in case' basis. These can be helpful as symptoms sometimes change quickly. In palliative care there are some special considerations for how medicines are managed.
Download the CareSearch factsheet on Managing medicines (417kb pdf)
Breakthrough symptoms occur for many reasons in people with a life-limiting illness. This includes symptoms like pain, nausea, breathlessness, and anxiety. Sometimes these symptoms ‘break through’ the stable control of symptoms usually experienced. Your prescriber may prescribe additional medicines to be used as a ‘rescue dose’ in case this happens. It is important that you follow the advice given to you about treating breakthrough symptoms. Letting your care team know how much and how often breakthrough medicine is needed helps with management of your symptoms. Ask your team for help to keep track. You can use the palliAGED Chart of breakthrough medicines to help with this task.
The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) subsidises medicines which are proven to work. This means that you can get them at a lower cost from your local pharmacy. The government decides which medicines will be subsidised. It also decides how many repeats you get and if your GP needs to get special permission to prescribe it.
Some medicines have restricted access. This could be because they are expensive. It could also be because they are at higher risk of causing problems. These medicines need to be written on an ‘authority script’. This means that the doctor gets authorisation to prescribe them. This then ensures the medication remains affordable.
Your palliative care medicines may be prescribed 'off license'. This means they are used differently and not exactly as the PBS directs. You will have to pay more for these medicines. This could be through your local pharmacy. You could also arrange an ongoing supply through the hospital associated with your palliative care service.
You may need to get a lot of prescriptions filled, and this can become costly. If you or your family use a lot of medicines, the PBS Safety Net helps with the costs. Once you have reached a certain limit, you can receive medicines more cheaply for the rest of the year.
Visit the Services Australia website for more on the PBS Safety Net scheme
PBS Safety Net
Sometimes in palliative care taking medications by mouth or other routes such as skin patches is no longer possible or preferred. In this case some medications can be delivered using a syringe driver. These are small portable (usually battery-operated) devices used to continuously administer medications subcutaneously. Subcutaneous means 'under the skin'.
You can find out about your medicines in many ways.
Visit the healthdirect website for medicines information
Managing medicines is important, but it can be difficult. This may apply to yourself or someone that you are caring for.
You can easily forget to give or to take medicines, or even take them twice. You will find it easier if you use a medicines list to record this information. It is important that you take this list to your medical appointments. You should also ask your doctor to update this for you when your medicines are changed.
Sometimes, your doctor or pharmacist may suggest that you use a dose administration aid. This is a way to organise medicines so that they are easier to manage. Your pharmacist may be able to fill this regularly for you. There may be a cost for this service.
Download the PalliAGED form for your Medicines List (88kb pdf)
Medicines List (88kb pdf)
All medicines can cause adverse effects. This is an unintended effect of a medicine. You will need to watch for adverse effects and monitor what is happening. This could be anything from a rash, to a wheeze, or diarrhoea.
You or the person that you are caring for may only experience some, or none of these effects. Discuss all adverse effects with your doctor or pharmacist. some may just be temporary, while others may be a sign of a bigger issue.
Visit the Better Health Channel Medicines and side effects webpage
Better Health Channel
Visit NPS medicines website
Visit the Department of Health website: About the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)
Explore additional resources
Last updated 02 August 2021