Report reveals crisis in drug overdoses
Drug related deaths in West Gippsland more than doubled in a four year period, according to latest research.
An annual report has revealed a growing crisis of drug overdoses in rural communities and West Gippsland is no exception.
Australia’s Annual Overdose Report released last Tuesday identified a growing number of people dying from drug overdose, which claimed 24 lives in West Gippsland between 2012 and 2016.
The number of drug related deaths, which includes deaths that are accidental, suicidal and homicidal, increased from just nine in West Gippsland 10 years earlier between 2002 and 2006.
The report, released by not-for-profit organisation Penington Institute, warned Australia is on track to experience a United States-style drug overdose crisis with 2177 lives lost to drug overdose in 2016.
The new report revealed sleeping tablets and anxiety tablets (Benzodiazepines, also known as “benzos”) had become a hidden epidemic killing large number of Australians each year.
The report also showed most overdoses involved a number of drugs.
Penington Institute chief executive officer John Ryan said the death toll was alarming.
“Drug overdose deaths are hurting communities across the state and the West Gippsland region is no different.
“In Warragul and surrounding areas we have seen a steady climb in overdose deaths and that is a real concern.
“From 2001 to 2016, the drug type claiming the most lives in the area is unsurprisingly opioids such as codeine, heroin, oxycodone and fentanyl,” he said.
The new report showed a continuing trend that the rate of accidental drug related death in rural Australia had grown significantly compared to metropolitan Australia.
Mr Ryan said the report showed “benzos” had become the silent killer. From 2001 to2016 7088 Australians died through overdoses involving Benzodiazepines.
Deaths involving amphetamines (including crystal methamphetamine or “ice”) have 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 were 1237 deaths compared to 298 for the period 2002 to 2006. The new report also revealed: Middle-aged Australians were more likely to die of an accidental drug overdose in Australia.
In 2016, 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 an accidental drug overdoses.
Mr Ryan said Australians were now misusing and abusing prescription pain killers and opioids like fentanyl unlike any previous time in history.
“There has been a massive 87% increase in prescription opioid deaths from 2008 to 2014 in Australia.
“Pharmaceutical opioids account for 70 per cent of opioid related deaths and about 45 per cent of all accidental drug related deaths.
Mr Ryan said overdoses usually happened accidentally and most of the deaths were caused by multiple contributing drugs, rather than a single drug.
“The drug fentanyl is enormous cause for alarm. It is a synthetic opioid, up to 100 times more powerful than pure morphine and it is a key and growing part of Australia’s overdose crisis. It is claiming more lives than ever before.
“The number of accidental deaths involving fentanyl, pethidine and tramadol jumped nine times from 2001 to 2016,” he said.
Mr Ryan called on the federal government to review prescribing the pain killer fentanyl. treatment. He said the government also needed to focus on drug use matters as a health issue not law enforcement issue.
“Spending priorities are wrong in Australia. Sixty five per cent of government investment tackling illicit drugs is spent on law enforcement to reduce supply. Just 22 per cent is spent on treatment; 9.5 per cent on prevention and 2.2 per cent on harm reduction,” Mr Ryan said.