Key messages

  • High-risk medicines have a narrow therapeutic index.
  • High-risk medicines can cause significant harm when system errors occur.
  • Medicines can present a high risk when administered via the wrong route.

High-risk medicines are defined as having a heightened risk of causing significant or catastrophic harm when used in error.

This includes medicines with a narrow therapeutic index, and medicines that present a high risk when administered via the wrong route or when other systems errors occur.

The Quality Use of Medicines Program High Risk Medicine Working Party developed initiatives for the following drugs and categories:

P - potassium
I - insulin
N - narcotics
C - chemotherapy
H - heparin
S - systems.

The list is not exhaustive. There could be other medicines or practice areas that may be relevant to you.

National standard

National Safety and Quality Health Service Standard 4 requires hospitals and health services to identify high-risk medicines used within the organisation and take appropriate action to ensure that they are stored, prescribed, dispensed and administered safely.

High-risk medicines alert system

Medication safety alerts are issued in response to reported incidents or for medicines with known high risks.

This alert system is to warn health professionals about serious known medication risks, outlines the action required to minimise risks, and provide tools to facilitate risk minimisation.

The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care (ACSQHC) has collated tools along with safety alerts and guidance from other Australian states and territories and international organisations.

The tools and safety alerts advise action to prevent future adverse medicine events or to lessen the risk of such events.