Today is Overdose Awareness Day, and the Alcohol and Drug Foundation says a newly released report highlights the need for ongoing, long-term investment into drug-related harm prevention and reduction initiatives, as well as treatment services.
The comprehensive Penington Institute Annual Overdose Report, which looks at unintentional and intentional overdoses in Australia, found that:
- Drug overdose is a leading cause of death for Australians.
- There were 2,231 drug-induced deaths reported in Australia in 2021. Of those, 1,675 were unintentional.
- Over the five years to 2021, more than two thirds of all unintentional drug induced deaths involved two or more types of drugs.
- In 2021, opioids were the most common drug type detected in unintentional drug-induced deaths, followed by benzodiazepines, stimulants, anti-depressants and alcohol.
Indigenous Australians are more than three times as likely to experience unintentional drug-induced deaths, compared to non-Indigenous Australians. Men, people living in rural and regional areas, and those living in low socio-economic areas are also more likely to die from unintentional overdose.
The Alcohol and Drug Foundation’s CEO, Dr Erin Lalor, said the number of overdoses in Australia is unacceptably high.
‘These heartbreaking deaths, which are mostly preventable, have a ripple effect on the community, with friends and families suffering. Our thoughts are with those who have been impacted,’ said Dr Lalor.
Dr Lalor explained that a suite of measures is needed to prevent and reduce drug-related harms, including targeted education campaigns in populations at greater risk of unintentional overdose, addressing stigma, and stronger investments in harm reduction and prevention initiatives, and treatment services.
‘Using drugs, including pharmaceuticals and alcohol, always carries some risk. Mixing drugs is particularly dangerous and heighten a person’s risk of injuries, overdose, and even death,’ she said.
‘Ongoing, long-term investment into drug-related harm prevention and reduction initiatives, as well as treatment services, will save lives.’
Stigma must be addressed
Dr Lalor concluded by saying stigma is a common and complex problem for people who use drugs, which urgently needs to be addressed.
‘Stigma can stop people seeking help and support, which can negatively impact their health, wellbeing, employment and social outcomes.
‘For people who do experience issues with their drug use, often this has more to do with the other challenges they might be facing,’ said Dr Lalor. ‘In these situations, our role as a community is to help them with the support they need to be healthy and well.
’People should feel no shame in seeking information or help in relation to drugs. If a person is worried about their own, or a loved one’s alcohol and drug use, there is lots of help and support available,’ she said.
For support or advice, visit adf.org.au or call the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015 .
If you are worried about your own, or a loved one’s alcohol or other drug use, people can also visit Path2Help. This tool will connect you with local services in your area that can help you have that initial conversation.