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Australia’s Annual Overdose Report 2023 Reveals Alarming Trends: Urgent Action Needed to Address National Crisis

Penington Institute has released Australia’s Annual Overdose Report 2023, which highlights the devastating impact of drug-induced deaths in Australia. Using data across a 20-year period, the report demonstrates the nature of an escalating crisis that begs for urgent and comprehensive policy reform. 

Penington Institute’s CEO John Ryan said the report findings are cause for concern for all Australians and called for immediate action to address the nation’s overdose crisis. 

“It is no exaggeration to talk about an overdose crisis. Overdose deaths in Australia have exceeded the road toll since 2014, and we see little to no action to demonstrably change this,” Mr Ryan said. 

The report is being released in time for International Overdose Awareness Day on 31 August which is convened by Penington Institute and is the largest global campaign to end overdose. 

Request a copy of the report here.

Disturbing Statistics: One Australian Dies of Overdose Every Four Hours 

Australia’s Annual Overdose Report 2023 presents a grim reality in which six Australians lose their lives to overdose every day, with one person succumbing to this tragedy every four hours. 

“This is one of the world’s worst public health crises, with a devastating toll on individuals, communities, and economies the world over. And yet, with the right interventions, overdose deaths are preventable.  

“This is why we need drug policy reform and greater overdose awareness in our communities,” Mr Ryan said. 

Over 37,000 Lives Lost Since 2001 

Since 2001, Australia has seen over 37,000 drug-induced deaths, an alarming figure that demands urgent attention from governments and communities alike. In 2021, there were 2,231 drug-induced deaths reported, with a staggering 75% of these deaths being unintentional. 

“Unintentional overdose death in Australia has far outpaced population growth over the past two decades,” Mr Ryan said.  

“This shows our response as a nation is simply not keeping up.” 

A Crisis That Spares No One 

Drug overdose is one of the top three causes of death for Australian adults under the age of 50. In 2021, it was the third-leading cause of death for individuals aged 20-29, behind suicide and land transport accidents, and the second leading cause behind suicide for those aged 30-39. While not currently a leading cause of death for adults aged 50-59, unintentional overdose deaths have increased almost 300% over the past 20 years in this age group. 

The report also reveals Indigenous Australians continue to be overrepresented in overdose deaths, with the rate of unintentional drug-induced deaths being drastically higher than for non-Indigenous Australians. In 2021, the rate of unintentional drug-induced deaths for Indigenous Australians was 20 per 100,000 population, compared with 5.9 for non-Indigenous people.  

Penington Institute Board Member and Director of the Aboriginal Drug and Alcohol Council (South Australia), Scott Wilson, called on the Federal Government to have targets to reduce Indigenous overdose as part of its commitment to Closing the Gap. 

“The overdose rate for Indigenous people has been on the increase year after year, with little or no support from Federal or State Governments to do anything to try and reverse this sad trend,” Mr Wilson said.  

The Looming Threat of Synthetic Opioids 

The report sounds a cautionary note about the potential future impact of synthetic opioids, especially fentanyl, in Australia. Citing the devastating opioid epidemic in the United States and Canada, the report underscores the need for a comprehensive and evidence-based approach to overdose prevention. This includes the urgent establishment of a National Overdose Prevention Strategy, developed in collaboration with experts and individuals with lived experience. 

The Role of Opioids in Overdose Deaths 

Opioids continue to be the most common drug present in unintentional deaths, contributing to a staggering 45.7% of drug-induced deaths. The rise in deaths involving the synthetic opioid fentanyl and other similar substances is particularly alarming, increasing over 800% since 2001. Across the five years to 2021, opioids were the most common drug type in overdose deaths involving multiple substances; they were present in 81% of such deaths.  

Stimulants Overdose Deaths are of Increasing Concern 

A striking trend over the past two decades is the sharp increase in the number of overdoses involving stimulants, such as cocaine and amphetamines, demonstrating a real area of risk to many Australians. In 2021, stimulants were involved in more than one quarter (27.5%) of overdose deaths; while in 2001, this was only around five per cent. The report reveals this trend is wide-reaching touching Australian adults of all age groups. 

The Need for a Functional Pharmacotherapy System 

To address these issues, CEO John Ryan stressed the critical need for a functioning pharmacotherapy system in Australia. A strong opioid pharmacotherapy system that is accessible and navigable can work to support Australians seeking treatment and, in turn, can help to significantly reduce overdose deaths.  

This week, Penington Institute also releases its report, Opioid pharmacotherapy at the crossroads: Enduring barriers and new opportunities, which points out that improving access to pharmacotherapy treatment is a crucial part of the solution. 

Acting Together 

Mr Ryan urged governments, healthcare providers, and communities to take urgent action.  

“The time to address this national crisis is now. We already have the tools and know-how to reduce overdose deaths – we just need to do it…. by implementing evidence-based solutions, supporting access to treatment, and closing the gap in overdose death rates between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians,” Mr Ryan said. 

Request a copy of the report here.


Penington Institute is hosting a webinar on 28th August 2023 at 3pm to reveal key findings from the report. In a special address, Scott Wilson, Director of the Aboriginal Drug and Alcohol Council (South Australia), will highlight key findings and implications for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. A panel discussion will be held with Scott Wilson, Penington Institute’s CEO, John Ryan, and Manager of Research and Workforce Development, Dr Karen Gelb.  

To register for this webinar, visit https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/overdose-in-australia-australias-annual-overdose-report-2023-tickets-700086657037?aff=oddtdtcreator  


Note to Editors: The reports Australia’s Annual Overdose Report 2023 and Opioid pharmacotherapy at the crossroads: Enduring barriers and new opportunities will be available on our website on 28 August 2023 here: https://www.penington.org.au/reports-and-submissions/  

For all media enquiries, contact Sofia Dedes on 0400 512 618 or Anna Northey on 0400 640 622.  

Penington Institute connects lived experience with research to support cost-effective approaches that maximise community health and safety in relation to drugs, including pharmaceuticals and alcohol. For more information go to www.penington.org.au  

Penington Institute is the global convenor of International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31. For more about International Overdose Awareness Day including local events and buildings that will be lit up in purple around Australia, go to overdoseday.com  


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