New data shows extent of overdoses in Coffs Harbour
THE group behind a recent study into overdose deaths says not enough people understand the risks of pharmaceutical drugs.
In 2018, 1556 people died after unintentional drug overdoses across Australia, 336 more people than died on our roads.
The Penington Institute, who compiled A ustralia’s Annual Overdose Report 2020 is deeply concerned, with CEO John Ryan calling the figures “absolutely unacceptable”.
“For five years running, more than 500 people in NSW have passed away because of overdoses,” he said.
“The persistence of these numbers suggests one thing above all: we are not doing enough to lessen the harms of drugs in our largest state.”
The report showed in the five years from 2014-2018, 46 people in Coffs Harbour had died from accidental overdoses and 22 in the Clarence Valley. From 2009-2013 that number was 31.
“That’s an unacceptably high number – and it’s 46 too many,” Mr Ryan said.
Contrary to other states where illicit drugs like heroin and ice are most often implicated in overdose deaths, it is pharmaceutical opioids and benzodiazepines, the latter of which has previously been described by Penington Institute as “Australia’s silent killer”, which are driving overdose deaths in New South Wales.
Benzodiazepines like Diazepam and Temazepam are commonly used to treat anxiety and insomnia and are the drug type most often detected in unintentional overdose deaths in NSW.
There were 198 deaths in 2018 alone.
“Not enough Australians understand the potential risks of drugs you can get from your doctor or from the pharmacy around the corner and importantly the dangers of combining drugs.”
There are also alarming signs with regards to the number of deaths associated with ‘other pharmaceuticals’, which are a broad group that includes anticonvulsants, antidepressants, antipsychotics, sedatives and hypnotics.
In regional NSW, it was the only drug category which saw its rate of death (per 100,000) climb from 2017-2018 and Mr Ryan was quick to sound a warning.
“We know there are currently critical shortages of antidepressants in Australia and we know it’s at least partly because of increased demand as people try to cope with the stress of COVID-19,” he said.
“That tells us that, in addition to the many other long-term effects of the pandemic, we may see increased harms involving antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications in the years to come.”
And while drug use is commonly associated with younger people, the report showed Australians aged over 50 were more likely to die from an unintentional drug overdose, representing 40 per cent of total deaths.
“This is Australia’s hidden health crisis. By releasing this report with the most up-to-date data, we’re looking to start a conversation, bring overdose out of the shadows and ultimately reduce harms.”
“Penington Institute is releasing this year’s Annual Overdose Report on International Overdose Awareness Day, the world’s largest annual campaign to end overdose, remember those who have died without stigma and acknowledge the grief of the family and friends left behind.”
The findings not only underscore the importance of access to drug treatment services and harm reduction services including Opioid Substitution Treatment, Take Home Naloxone and Needle and Syringe Programs, but also the need to continue to raise awareness about drug use and how to reduce harms.