Kyabram Free Press - - FRONT PAGE - By Ivy Jensen

MORE than four peo­ple a year are dy­ing from drug over­doses across the Cam­paspe re­gion.

And alarm­ingly most deaths are from pre­scrip­tion painkillers.

Ac­cord­ing to Aus­tralia’s An­nual Over­dose Re­port 2018, 18 peo­ple died of a drug-re­lated death in the shire from 2012-16, a jump of eight deaths com­pared to 2002-06.

These in­clude ac­ci­den­tal deaths, sui­cides, homi­cides and those of un­de­ter­mined in­tent.

Cam­paspe-based Ru­ral Doc­tors As­so­ci­a­tion of Vic­to­ria pres­i­dent Suzanne Har­ri­son said the codeine ban had been a small step in the right di­rec­tion as over-the-counter sales had con­trib­uted to the ris­ing abuse of pre­scrip­tion drugs.

How­ever, she said many pa­tients were now pres­sur­ing, even threat­en­ing, doc­tors for these drugs to be pre­scribed,

‘‘I think most med­i­cal staff know that nar­cotics are not the an­swer to chronic pain is­sues,’’ she said.

‘‘We know that physio, ex­er­cise etc are of much greater value in re­turn­ing to func­tion, recog­nis­ing that com­plete re­lief of chronic pain is an un­likely out­come and that nar­cotics are likely to po­ten­ti­ate pain with long-term use.

"How­ever there is sig­nif­i­cant dif­fi­culty in ac­cess­ing and fund­ing spe­cial­ist pain man­age­ment ser­vices and the al­lied health sup­port nec­es­sary to im­prove out­comes and re­turn of func­tion.

‘‘I also have con­cerns re­gard­ing the re­luc­tance of many pa­tients to en­gage in this ap­proach, pre­fer­ring to take a pill rather than time and ef­fort in­volved in this ap­proach.

‘‘For many of our pa­tients these is­sues are just the tip of the ice­berg of in­ter­gen­er­a­tional trauma and a much more sup­port­ive and proac­tive ap­proach for our very young com­mu­nity mem­bers is needed. How­ever this takes a whole of com­mu­nity ap­proach and lots of ef­fort.’’

John Ryan, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Pen­ing­ton In­sti­tute, which pro­duced the re­port, said these fig­ure were alarm­ing.

‘‘The num­ber of drug-re­lated deaths in this re­gion of Vic­to­ria, in­clud­ing Echuca, Kyabram and Rochester, is head­ing in the wrong di­rec­tion and that is re­ally con­cern­ing,’’ he said.

‘‘From 2001 to 2016, the drug type claim­ing the most lives in the area is, un­sur­pris­ingly, opi­oids such as codeine, heroin, oxy­codone and fen­tanyl.’’

The new re­port re­veals sleep­ing tablets/ anx­i­ety tablets (known as “Ben­zos”) have be­come a hid­den epi­demic killing large num­bers of Aus­tralians each year.

The num­ber of deaths in­volv­ing “Ben­zos” has dou­bled in just a decade.

Mr Ryan said they have be­come a silent killer and the dead­li­ness of Ben­zo­di­azepines was clearly be­ing grossly un­der­es­ti­mated.

From 2001-2016 7088 Aus­tralians died through over­doses in­volv­ing Ben­zo­di­azepines. In Aus­tralia, the num­ber of deaths in­volv­ing “Ben­zos” has jumped from 812 (2002-2006) to 2177 (2012-2016).

Deaths in­volv­ing am­phet­a­mines (in­clud­ing crys­tal metham­phetamine or “ice”) have also grown con­sid­er­ably in the past five years. Am­phet­a­mines now sur­pass al­co­hol as the third most com­mon sub­stance de­tected in ac­ci­den­tal drug re­lated deaths. For the pe­riod 2012 to 2016, there was a huge 1237 deaths com­pared to 298 for the pe­riod 2002 to 2006.

Most over­doses in­volve a num­ber of drugs. The new re­port also re­veals mid­dle-aged Aus­tralians are the peo­ple far more likely to die of an ac­ci­den­tal drug over­dose in this coun­try.

In 2016, a mas­sive 68 per cent of all ac­ci­den­tal drug deaths were peo­ple aged 30 to 59. The peo­ple most likely to die of an ac­ci­den­tal drug over­dose are aged 40 to 49.

A grow­ing num­ber of women are now dy­ing from ac­ci­den­tal drug over­doses.

There has been a mas­sive 87 per cent in­crease in pre­scrip­tion opi­oid deaths from 2008 to 2014 in Aus­tralia.

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