A new report from the UNSW National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) estimates there were almost 1,795 drug-induced deaths in Australia in 2017.
The report indicates that, consistent with previous years, 72 per cent of drug-induced deaths in 2017 among Australians aged 15-64 years were considered accidental, and 20 per cent were intentional (68 per cent and 25 per cent for Australians of all ages, respectively).
The findings indicate, also consistent with previous years, higher rates of drug-induced deaths among men compared with women: 9.4 versus 5.2 deaths per 100,000 all ages, respectively.
Pharmaceutical opioids were seen as the main contributing factor in these deaths.
According to Program Leader for Drug Trends at NDARC, Dr Amy Peacock, many of the deaths caused by opioids also involved other sedatives such as benzodiazepines, antipsychotics and pregabalin. It is reported that in 2017 pregabalin was the sixth most prescribed subsidise medicine in Australia.
Dr Peacock said that when studying trends involving these substances, “increased prescribing” and “improved routine testing for substances such as pregabalin in drug-induced deaths, must be considered.”
“Drug-induced deaths are preventable,” she said. “We know about the risks of mixing opioids with other drugs, including other sedative medications.
“We have good evidence to support a range of strategies that can reduce the risk of loss of life from drugs. Key among these is ensuring affordable, accessible treatment for all Australians who are experiencing problems as a consequence of drug use.”
Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League CEO Melanie Walker agreed.
“We need to be proactive in implementing practical strategies to save lives and help people to protect themselves,” she said.