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Overdose death rates higher in regional and rural areas than capital cities

Accidental overdose death rates in 2012 were higher in Australia’s regional and rural areas than in capital cities, analysis by Penington Institute reveals before August 31 International Overdose Awareness Day.

Penington Institute has commissioned Australian Bureau of Statistics mortality data which separates accidental overdose deaths in capital cities and then the ‘rest of state’. The data extends from 2001 to 2012 (the most recent data available).

“In the most recent year available, 2012, accidental overdose death rates in regional and rural areas passed the capital cities for the first time according our data,” Mr Ryan said.

The rate of accidental drug deaths (per 100,000 people) outside capital cities has risen by 127 per cent in the past decade.

“A decade ago the accidental overdose death rate in the capital cities was 3.93 and in the ‘rest of’ the states and territories it was 2.54. There was a big difference,” Mr Ryan said.

“In 2012 there were 4.02 deaths per 100,000 people in our capital cities and 4.24 per 100,000 in regional and rural areas,” Mr Ryan said. “There were 604 accidental overdoses in capital cities compared with 327 in regional and rural areas in 2012.”

“The overall capital city accidental overdose death rate per 100,000 people has fallen in capital cities since 2010. However, in regional and rural areas, there is a steady rise.

“There hasn’t been a shift in heroin use in regional areas that could account for this, which means that it’s almost certainly due to prescription drug misuse,” Mr Ryan said.

“For example, oxycodone and fentanyl are powerful opioid painkillers and the number of prescriptions is rising. Overdose deaths involving these types of drugs are increasing as community use levels go up,” Mr Ryan said.

“The accidental overdose death rate is higher in regional and rural areas than the capital cities in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland,” Mr Ryan said.

“The most noticeable shift has been in New South Wales, where the accidental overdose death rate outside of Sydney has doubled since 2008, from 2.25 to 4.72 per 100,000 people. Without singling out any particular drug, it does overlap with the increase in fentanyl overdoses in regional and rural NSW,” Mr Ryan said.

He said the data contradicted the commonly held view that drug overdose was a bigger problem in “the big smoke” rather than regional centres or towns such as Albury-Wodonga, Cairns, Bathurst or Coober Pedy.

“Drug overdose affects all walks of life and now, it can be shown for the first time, regional and rural areas as much as our capital cities,” Mr Ryan said.

“People in regional areas, and especially rural areas, have less access to specialist pain treatment so tend to rely upon painkiller prescriptions a lot,” Mr Ryan said.

“Methadone programs reduce overall overdose, but in regional and rural areas there are nowhere near enough prescribers and waiting lists can be years in some parts of country Australia,” Mr Ryan said.

“Doctor shopping is undoubtedly an issue, and in many regional areas there are extensive black markets involving networks covering hundreds of square kilometres,” he said.

“Ambulance response times are obviously longer in regional and rural areas and this may also be a factor,” Mr Ryan said.

New South Wales

Mr Ryan said the 2012 data showed the fatal overdose death rate in regional and rural NSW was higher than Sydney.

“In New South Wales the accidental overdose death rate per 100,000 was 2.64 in 2002 and a decade later it was 4.72. It overlaps with the increase in fentanyl overdoses in regional and rural NSW,” Mr Ryan said.

The rate for Sydney in 2012 was 4.09 per 100,000 people.

In most of regional NSW the main issue wasn’t heroin, he said. “It’s pharmaceutical drugs such as oxycodone, fentanyl and benzodiazepines which are contributing to the alarming rise in overdose rates,” Mr Ryan said.

Queensland

Accidental overdose death rates are higher in regional and rural Queensland than in Brisbane, new data reveals.

In 2012, the accidental overdose death rate per 100,000 people was 4.24 in Greater Brisbane compared with 4.89 for the rest of the state.

“In 2003 the rate in regional and rural Queensland was 1.99. By 2012 it had risen to 4.89 per 100,000 Queenslanders,” Mr Ryan said.

In most of regional Queensland the main issue isn’t heroin, he said. “It’s pharmaceutical drugs such as oxycodone fentanyl and benzodiazepines which are contributing to the alarming rise in overdose rates,” Mr Ryan said.

Victoria

The per 100,000 people accidental fatal overdose rate in Melbourne in 2012 was 3.01, compared with 3.19 for the rest of the state.

South Australia

In Adelaide the accidental overdose death rate per 100,000 people was 5.4 compared with 2.65 for the rest of the state.

Western Australia

In Perth the accidental overdose death rate per 100,000 people was 5.58 in 2012 compared with 4.32 for the rest of the state.

ACT, Northern Territory and Tasmania

The ABS data supplied to Penington Institute groups Hobart, Darwin and Canberra together (due to small numbers) and the rest of the Northern Territory and Tasmania together also.

ENDS

For further information contact Dr Patrick Griffiths on 03 9650 0699 or 0438 664 774, or Angus Morgan 03 9650 0699 or 0407 357 253, or Royal Abbott on 03 9650 0699 or 0421 184 027.