HARD TO SWALLOW: Opioids, which include codeine, heroin, oxycodone and fentanyl, are claiming the most lives in Coffs Harbour.
HARD TO SWALLOW: Opioids, which include codeine, heroin, oxycodone and fentanyl, are claiming the most lives in Coffs Harbour. Daily Telegraph

Drug overdose deaths triple on Coffs Coast

THE number of people dying from drug overdoses in the Coffs Harbour region has more than tripled in just 10 years, and it appears prescription medications are behind the spike.

According to a report by not-for-profit Penington Institute, 59 people died from drug overdose in the region between 2012-16 compared to just 16 between 2002-06.

It was found opioids, which include codeine, heroin, oxycodone and fentanyl, are claiming the most lives in Coffs Harbour.

Overall the rate of accidental drug-related deaths in rural and regional Australia has grown significantly compared to metropolitan areas.

Penington Insitute CEO John Ryan called on the Federal Government to focus on drug use in Australia as a health issue rather than a law enforcement issue, saying prescription medications rather than illicit drugs are the leading cause of overdoses.

"The number of drug-related deaths in Coffs Harbour and the neighbouring area is heading north at a startling turn and that is a major worry,” he said.

"43 deaths... is one of the sharpest increases anywhere in Australia. This should act as a strong wake-up call.”

In Australia overall, sleeping tablets and anxiety pills Benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax etc.) are involved in the most deaths, followed by opioids and amphetamines.

In 2016 alone there were 2,177 accidental overdose deaths - the highest number in 20 years.

The report found people are twice more likely to die from an accidental drug overdose than a car accident, with drugs claiming five lives a day.

There's been a massive 87% increase in prescription opioid deaths from 2008-2014, largely the result of misuse of the opiods in combination with other drugs.

Previously available over-the-counter, chemists have since been banned from selling painkiller codeine without a prescription from February this year following 'substantial' evidence of misuse and abuse of the medications.

The report has been released ahead of International Overdose Awareness Day this Friday.



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