Australia’s leading independent drug research, policy and education organisation, Penington Institute, has welcomed the Andrews Labor Government’s proposed Royal Commission into Mental Health, should it be returned in the November state election.

Chief Executive John Ryan described the announcement as an important step forward in tackling Australia’s rapidly growing number of drug-related deaths.

“The increasing rate of drug overdose in Australia is alarming and unprecedented,” Mr Ryan said.

“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.

“Some 15 years ago the number of accidental drug-related deaths and car deaths were roughly the same. By 2016, the number of accidental drug-related deaths were more than double the number killed in car accidents – 1,704 compared to 751.

“Most of the increase has been due to the number of deaths involving prescription opioids such as oxycodone, morphine and codeine.”

Mr Ryan said that middle aged men, people living in regional and rural Australia, as well as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were much more likely to die from an accidental overdose. “It is these demographics that have particularly high rates of mental illness and lack access to the services they need to address substance use and co-occurring mental health issues,” Mr Ryan said.

Significantly, those with mental health problems make up a disproportionately large number of deaths from accidental overdose.

“One recent study in Victoria indicated that two thirds of those who died from accidental drug overdose had mental health issues,” Mr Ryan said.

“We need to shine a light on one of the most important public health challenges facing us today, and a Royal Commission will need to examine the link between mental illness and accidental drug overdose.

“We know that substance use and mental health problems often go hand in hand. In some instances, people self-medicate with alcohol and other drugs, particularly where they struggle to access adequate healthcare services. In other cases, substance use can lead to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

“Right now, 68,000 years of life are lost annually in Australia due to accidental drug-related death.

“We have to tackle the problem swiftly and effectively.”

Media Contact at Penington Institute: David Rose – 0434 500 854 –

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