Education needed to lower local drug overdose death toll

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FRANKSTON had 71 unintentional overdose deaths between 2014 and 2018, the third largest of any Victorian region.

The Mornington Peninsula, with 50 recorded deaths, was fifth on the list of 14 regions listed by the Penington Institute.

Topping the list of unintentional overdose deaths was Geelong, with 82, followed by Dandenong, 78, Frankston, 71 and Melbourne, 60.

The Carlton-based institute’s 2020 Australia’s Overdose Annual Report said more than 2000 people died from overdoses in the previous year.

The institute’s CEO John Ryan says drug-induced death is not confined to either illegal drugs or those taken as medicines.

“When used in conjunction with other drugs, alcohol may contribute to a fatal overdose, or rarely, be the sole cause of an unintentional drug-induced death,” he said in a foreword to the report which was released in August.

“Up until recently, alcohol was the third most common drug involved in unintentional drug-induced deaths, though it has recently been surpassed by both stimulants and anti-depressants.

“It is a grim landmark – and a brutal indictment of our governments’ narrow focus on controlling the supply of substances while failing to care enough for those who are already consuming and at risk of multiple harms including fatal overdose.”

Although Australian statistics were unlikely to be available until 2022, Mr Ryan said evidence from overseas showed “COVID-19 is accelerating trends and exacerbating risk factors which are already detectable in this year’s report”.

“Vulnerable people risk losing the supports they rely on to stay connected and healthy. But these risk factors for overdose were present in Australia long before the pandemic,” he said.

He said people used drugs for many reasons, including curiosity, pleasure “or the promise of new experiences” as well as in response to mental or physical traumas.

“Mental health drivers are important, like anxiety and depression. Some people turn to drugs to distract them from despair or isolation, while some are people with little hope for their futures, including the financially insecure and those who have lost their jobs.

“Drug use risks are driven by alcohol and pharmaceutical drugs as well as the illicit drugs that are the subjects of whispered conversations. All these drugs contribute to overdose and death.”

Mr Ryan said there were no simple solutions to the problem and “real time prescription monitoring” was not a “silver bullet”.

“A comprehensive national overdose strategy would be a good start if it had clear indicators to end overdose, as would expanding the Take Home Naloxone Pilot from three states to every jurisdiction in Australia.

“There is much more to be done – but at a minimum, we need an overdose educated and empowered community.”

First published in the Frankston Times – 22 September 2020

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