Penington Institute believes the marginal investment in drug and alcohol treatment and support services in the 2022-23 Victorian State Budget is a missed opportunity that undermines Victoria’s harm minimisation response to the impact of drugs in the community.

Penington Institute CEO, John Ryan said that while the investment in some new treatment initiatives in regional and rural Victoria was welcome, the lack of funding to deal with the ongoing overdose crisis in the community was incredibly disappointing.

“There are many positive initiatives outlined in the 2022-23 Victorian State Budget, particularly as we see the integration of care, treatment and support for co-occurring mental illness and substance use. However, there is a significant gap in funding for harm reduction,” said Mr Ryan said.

“Across the country, unintentional death from overdose continues to outnumber the road toll and should be prioritised as the health crisis that it is.”

“Significant ongoing investment has been committed to Victoria’s Road Safety Strategy, but if the State Government is truly committed to the health and wellbeing of all Victorians, then this investment in road safety should be matched by an investment in harm reduction.”

“Overdose affects Australians of all ages, from all places. Many believe illicit drugs are the main substances implicated in overdose, however pharmaceutical drugs – opioids, benzodiazepines (sedative drugs), anti-depressants and anti-convulsants – are detected in most overdose deaths.”

“Just as the State Government has addressed the challenges of mental health, it needs to develop an improved approach to its harm minimisation strategies so we can deliver better coordination of services and better outcomes.”

“The 2021 Australia’s Annual Overdose Report revealed drug-induced deaths as the second-leading cause of death for those aged 30 to 39, second only to suicide. For those 20 to 29 and 40 to 49 drug-induced deaths were the third-leading cause. The average 33 years of life lost to overdose death costs our economy more than $15.5 billion annually. The profound cost to families who lose a loved one is impossible to calculate.”

Penington Institute has convened International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD) since 2012. Held on 31 August each year, the campaign works to raise awareness and educate around overdose, to remember without stigma those who have lost their lives, and to provide better support for overdose prevention.

“Awareness, education, understanding, and support are fundamental to changing these heartbreaking statistics, with IOAD leading the way globally,” said Mr Ryan.

“We hope to work collaboratively with the Victorian Government to continue to shift the State’s approach to harm reduction. Together, and with the appropriate funding, we can help communities and frontline services reduce harm to improve the health and wellbeing of individuals and families across the country.”