Australia’s drug overdose crisis is escalating and regional areas like the Murraylands and Mallee are at the forefront of the epidemic.
Australia’s Annual Overdose Report 2017, produced by the Penington Institute, revealed Australians are twice as likely to die from accidental drug overdose than they are from a car accident, with a significant increase in deaths related to pharmaceutical drugs.
Of all drug overdoses in the country over the past 15 years, two-thirds have been accidental.
The report showed 37 people died from accidental drug overdoses between 2000 and 2015 in the Murraylands and Mallee, and Penington Institute’s chief executive officer John Ryan said this figure was a tragedy on two levels.
“Firstly, it’s terribly high, and secondly, it’s preventable, but there just isn’t enough awareness particularly in regional areas,” he said.
“Per capita, people in regional areas are more likely to die from drug overdose than people in metropolitan areas… particularly men aged between 30 and 59.”
The new data also indicated that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were more than three times as likely to die from an accidental drug overdose as other Australians.
Mr Ryan said there were three reasons why prescription drug overdoses had become so prevalent.
“Some deaths come from people accidentally using the prescribed drug incorrectly, some come from people who are prescribed the drug for an injury and develop a dependency, and some come from people shifting from accessing the illicit drug market to pharmaceuticals,” he said.
Fentanyl, a dangerous drug 100 times more potent than pure morphine, was named the biggest culprit, killing hundreds of Australians.
While pharmaceuticals had the most impact, Mr Ryan said ice-related overdoses had also increased.
“Some people think you can’t overdose on meth but the figures show you certainly can,” he said.
He accredited the increased vulnerability in regional areas to the lack of treatment services.
“Treatment must be more accessible and affordable… for some it’s cheaper to be abusing pharmaceuticals than to be on treatment.”
“Changing this would be an enormous benefit for many people in the crisis of addiction.”
He said the stigma around drug use and overdose needed to be addressed.
“The stigma in relation to drug use and drug addiction is one of the great barriers for people who are experiencing problems, whether they are family member or individuals with drug problems,” he said.
“This stigma also applies to some people in the healthcare profession. There are many excellent healthcare providers, but there is also a significant taboo in relation to drug use issues.”
To combat the issue, Mr Ryan said Australia needed it’s own war on drugs.
“We’ve seen how the road toll has dropped by increasing public awareness so we need the same safety barriers in place for people that are using drugs,” he said.
“The Australian public needs to be educated about the risk associated with taking pharmaceuticals and how to take them safely.”