The toll of unintentional overdose deaths in Australia: Penington Institute

Australia’s Annual Overdose Report 2019 reveals that unintentional overdose continues to be a significant cause of death in Australia.

The continued growth in unintentional overdose deaths is linked to highly potent drugs, many of which are available through prescription, such as pharmaceutical opioids and benzodiazepines. Illegal drugs such as heroin and stimulants including crystal methamphetamine (‘ice’) also contribute to a significant number of fatalities.

The use of multiple drugs concurrently (including alcohol) is common and increases the risk of overdose.

The principal findings of the report:

In 2017, there were a total of 2,162 drug-induced deaths in Australia, a significant increase from 15 years prior (1,231 in 2002).

Of the 2,162 drug-induced deaths in 2017, the majority (1,612) were unintentional. Fifteen years ago in 2002, the number of unintentional drug-induced deaths was 903.

There continues to be a marked increase in the rate of unintentional overdose death in regional Australia. In 2017, the per capita rate for regional Australia was 7.3 per 100,000 compared to a rate of 6.3 in metropolitan areas.

Middle-aged Australians are more likely to die from an unintentional overdose compared to younger or older age groups. Over 70 per cent of all unintentional overdose deaths occurred within the 30-59 age bracket in 2017.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to be over-represented in unintentional overdose deaths. In 2017, across five jurisdictions (NSW, Qld, SA, WA and NT), the unintentional overdose death rate per 100,000 Aboriginal people was 19.2 compared to 6.2 for non-Aboriginal Australians.

While more than double the number of men died of unintentional overdose than women in 2017, unintentional overdose deaths continues to significantly increase for both men and women.

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