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Coronavirus’ dramatic effect on Australian drug overdoses revealed

Thousands of Aussies are killed by drugs every year but one expert has warned it could be years before the true impact of the pandemic shows.

Australia lost more than 2000 people to drug overdoses in a single year but the true impact of the coronavirus crisis won’t be properly understood until 2022, a new report has found.

Penington Institute, an independent, not-for-profit drug research organisation, released its new report into fatal overdoses, revealing Australia has now lost more than 2000 people to drugs for five years in a row.

From 2014 to 2018, 10,834 Australians have lost their lives to fatal drug overdoses.

CEO John Ryan described the five-year streak of reporting more than 2000 deaths each year as a “tragedy we can prevent”.

“It is a grim landmark – and a brutal indictment of our Government’s 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,” Mr Ryan said.

The report looks at fatal drug overdoses up to 2018, finding 2070 people died from drugs in the calendar year. Of those, 1556 were unintentional.



Mr Ryan said the Institute’s 2022 report could be its worst to date, due to the long-lasting effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Because of the careful but slow work of classifying drug-related deaths, the empirical effects of COVID-19 on our overdose toll will not be seen until the OD Report 2022 – and for several years beyond that,” Mr Ryan said.

“But, as evidence from overseas shows, COVID-19 is accelerating trends and exacerbating risk factors which are already detectable in this year’s report.”

Despite Mr Ryan predicting a spike in the 2022 report, he cautioned the “risk factors for overdose were present in Australia long before the pandemic”.

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

“The OD Report 2020 tells the truth about fatal overdose – a tragedy we can prevent.”

The report details exactly what drugs have led to fatal overdoses in Australians.

Opioids continue to be the worst when it comes to unintentional drug-induced deaths.

“While deaths involving pharmaceutical opioids have constituted the majority of unintentional deaths due to opioids since 2004, there has been a dramatic rise in deaths involving heroin since 2012, resulting in heroin deaths overtaking those involving pharmaceutical opioids in 2018,” the report read.

Benzodiazepines, which include sleeping pills and are often prescribed to treat insomnia and anxiety, ranked second in causing fatal overdoses.

The report, however, found benzodiazepines are typically involved in poly-substance overdose deaths, meaning the person has died from a number of drugs.

There has also been a “sharp rise” in deaths involving stimulants since 2012.

The report found the trend of deaths caused by stimulants, including methamphetamine, was seen across regional and urban areas.

Deaths related to antidepressants however had seen a slower increase but they still ranked fourth on the Institute’s report.

“Drug-induced death is not confined to either illegal drugs or those taken as medicines; alcohol may also be involved in unintentional drug-induced deaths,” the report found.

“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. 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 antidepressants.”


If you or someone you know needs assistance.

LIFELINE on 13 11 14 or www.lifeline.org.au 

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MENSLINE AUSTRALIA on 1300 789 978


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REACHOUT at au.reachout.com


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