One of the most urgent public health issues facing the new government will be Australia’s dependence on prescription opioids, independent drug research, policy and education organisation Melbourne-based Penington Institute, said today.

Figures just released by the London-based Global Survey on Drugs show that the use of prescription opioids in the last year was highest in Australia (30%) – exceeding both the USA (29%) and England (28%).

Penington Institute’s CEO, John Ryan, said the results should be a wake-up call for both federal and state health ministers.

“We should be doing everything possible to avoid the situation unfolding in the United States, but governments aren’t tackling the problem with the resolution that’s really required.

“We have been sounding the alarm for some time. The federal health minister has the opportunity to show real leadership in tackling this growing public health crisis,” Mr Ryan added.

Of the Global Survey on Drugs’ Australian sample, 30.4 per cent said they’d used prescription opioids – whether for medical or nonmedical use – in the last 12 months. More than half (56 per cent) said they’d used opioids for non-medical purposes at least once.

Penington Institute’s own Australia’s Annual Overdose Report 2018 showed a troubling 180% increase in pharmaceutical opioid deaths in Australia over a decade from 2006 (257 deaths) to 2016 (720 deaths).  Prescription opioids now contribute to 33 per cent of all drug-induced deaths Australia.

“In the past, efforts to reduce the death toll from overdose have predominantly focused on law enforcement and supply reduction. But the death toll continues to climb.

“The number of accidental deaths due to drug use has risen consistently over the past 15 years from just over 900 in 2002 to more than 1700 in 2016. Urgent action is needed now,” said Mr Ryan.

Media Contact at Penington Institute:  David Rose – 0434 500854 – d.rose@penington.org.au

About Penington Institute

Officially launched in 2014, Penington Institute grew out of the work of Anex and its 20 years’ experience working with people directly affected by problematic drug use. Penington Institute’s mission is to actively support the adoption of approaches to drug use that promote safety and human dignity.  It does so through: independent, non-partisan thought leadership, community education, training, research and policy formation.