Biggest growth among men, the middle aged and regional/rural Australians.

Many of us have a view in our minds when we think of people who die of a drug overdose – an inner-city, street-based heroin user, probably young, likely homeless.

Released today, a new national report by Penington Institute – Australia’s Annual Overdose Report 2016 – has revealed that this stereotype is not accurate.

CEO of Penington Institute John Ryan said: “the report shows that older male Australians, and particularly people in regional Australia, are more likely to die of an overdose. The report also indicates that more people die of an overdose of prescription medications such as oxycodone and benzodiazepines like Valium, than from illicit drugs.”

“These figures challenge the conventional wisdom that it is young urban people who are most at risk of dying of overdose in Australia,” Mr Ryan said.

The report shows:

  • In 2014, people aged 30-59 accounted for 78 per cent of all overdose deaths.
  • Australians aged 40-49 are the most likely to die of a drug overdose. Deaths in this age bracket have almost doubled from 174 deaths in 2004 to 342 in 2014.
  • In 2014, per capita overdose deaths are significantly higher in rural and regional areas (5.7 deaths per 100,000 population) than in metropolitan areas (4.4 deaths per 100,000 population).
  • Between 2008 and 2014, there was an 83 per cent increase in per capita deaths in rural and regional Australia – up from 3.1 deaths per 100,000 population to 5.7 per 100,000.
  • Men overdose in much higher numbers than women with 762 men and 375 women dying of accidental overdose in 2014, a trend reflected over the previous decade.

Across Australia overall deaths due to accidental overdose grew substantially from 2004 to 2014.

“Accidental deaths from overdose reached 1,137 in 2014, a rapid rise from 705 deaths in 2004 and a 61 per cent increase in a decade,” Mr Ryan said.

“Between 2013 and 2014 overdose deaths smashed through the 1,000 deaths mark, with a rise of 14.5 per cent in one year alone, from 993 to 1,137.

“These grim figures underscore how severe the overdose crisis is in Australia,” he said. “It is now time for significant investments to be made to reduce the human toll from accidental overdose.”

“Comprehensive investments have been made to reduce the road toll. The question is therefore: why isn’t a similar level of investment being made into overdose prevention and awareness?”

The International Overdose Awareness Day website is:

To request a copy of the Australia’s Annual Overdose Report 2016 visit:

Australia’s Annual Overdose Report 2016, based on data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, has been released by Penington Institute as part of the lead up to International Overdose Awareness Day on 31 August.

The report reveals:

  • We are seeing an explosion of overdose deaths in rural and regional that is driving the overall increase. Between 2008 and 2014, there was an increase from 3.1 deaths per 100,000 population to 5.7 per 100,000– an 83 per cent increase. Meanwhile, the rate per capita in metropolitan areas has moved only slightly from 4.2 per 100,000 in 2008 to 4.4 per 100,000 in 2014.
  • Despite common perceptions of accidental deaths due to drugs are caused by illicit drugs, in 2014 prescription medications were responsible for more drug-related deaths (71 per cent) than illicit drugs (29 per cent). (Note: this statistic is for total drug-related deaths, not just overdose deaths).
    • Over the period 2008-2014 there was an 87 per cent increase in prescription opioid deaths in Australia, with the greatest increase occurring in rural/regional Australia which saw a 148 per cent increase.
  • Accidental deaths due to drug overdose per capita for Aboriginal people have skyrocketed between 2004 and 2014 with an increase of 141 per cent – from 3.9 per 100,000 in 2004 to 9.4 per 100,000 in 2014 in the five jurisdictions with Aboriginal data. In the same period, the increase among non-Aboriginal people was from 3.3 per 100,000 to 4.8 per 100,000 – an increase of 45 per cent.
  • Western Australia is the worst state for overdose deaths per capita with 5.8 per 100,000 in 2014 followed by NSW with 5.1 per 100,000.
    • Since 2004 Western Australia’s per capita overdose deaths have jumped from the lowest to the highest in the country – an increase from 1.8 per 100,000 to 5.8 per 100,000 (a 222 per cent increase) – against a national increase over the same period of 37 per cent.


Contact: Sophie Marcard, Senior Media and Communications Advisor, +61 400 089 653 or