Australia’s continuing overdose tragedy

Australia’s Annual Overdose Report 2017 shows that Australians are dying from overdose in increasing numbers.

The growth in overdose deaths is linked to highly potent drugs, including strong pharmaceutical painkillers and very pure crystal methamphetamine. The use of multiple drugs at once – often including alcohol and pharmaceuticals – is further raising risk levels.

The principal findings of Australia’s Annual Overdose Report 2017 are:

In 2015, there were a total of 2,023 drug-related deaths in Australia. This has increased from 1,313 deaths in 2001.

The difference between accidental drug-related deaths (1,489 in 2015) and car accidents (712 in 2015) has never been so pronounced, with accidental drug-related deaths more than double the number of deaths associated with car accidents.

Accidental death due to drugs has consistently increased over the past 15 years, from 981 in 2001 to 1,489 in 2015.

There has been a marked increase in overdose deaths across regional Australia. In 2010, the per capita accidental death rate between metropolitan and regional Australia was similar at 6.0 (metropolitan) and 5.9 (regional). By 2015, accidental drug-related deaths in regional Australia reached 7.3 deaths per 100,000 in comparison with 5.8 deaths per 100,000 in metropolitan areas.

Middle-aged Australians are more likely to die from an accidental overdose. In 2015, 70 per cent of all accidental deaths occurred within the 30-59 age group. Since 2001, the number of accidental drug-related deaths within the 30-59 year age group has almost doubled from 540 to 1,071.

Aboriginal people are over-represented across all drug types. In 2015, across the five jurisdictions (NSW, Qld, WA, and NT) the accidental death rate per 100,000 for Aboriginal people was 18.3 compared with 5.9 for non-aboriginal people.

When looking at all drug related deaths and accidental deaths for pharmaceutical opioids the greatest increase from 2001-2005 to 2011-2015 has occurred in Queensland and Western Australia, with both jurisdictions recording a 2.7-fold increase.

The report, produced by Penington Institute, says there has been a significant increase in deaths related to pharmaceutical opioids, heroin, and highly potent fentanyl.

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