Codeine is on the list of drugs named in the accidental overdose issue affecting Australia.
Codeine is on the list of drugs named in the accidental overdose issue affecting Australia. Daily Telegraph

How drug overdose 'crisis' is affecting Northern NSW

IT'S been described as a "crisis" that's gripping Australia, and it's getting worse.

A record number of Australians have died from overdose, but the crisis is about legal as well as illicit drugs, with alarming increases in stimulant (including methamphetamine or "ice"), pharmaceutical and heroin overdoses, an annual report has found.

Unintentional deaths involving stimulants are increasing in every state and territory, and across our cities and regional areas, but it found fatal drug overdoses are more common in regional Victoria and New South Wales than anywhere else in the country.

These deaths are increasingly linked to heroin, but it's prescription opioids that continue to cause the majority of overdose deaths; they were involved in 53 per cent of all accidental drug-induced deaths in 2017.

Released this week, Australia's Annual Overdose Report 2019 revealed the number of Australians dying from unintentional overdoses has skyrocketed by almost 38 per cent over the last 10 years, from 1,171 to 1,612 in 2017.

For the first time, more unintentional overdose deaths are now attributed to the presence of four or more substances than only a single drug.

 

OPIOID CRISIS: Prescription painkillers such as OxyContin have contributed to an increase in unintentional overdose deaths.
OPIOID CRISIS: Prescription painkillers such as OxyContin have contributed to an increase in unintentional overdose deaths. Contributed

In regional NSW deaths increased by 42 per cent in five years.

In Tweed Valley, unintentional overdoses more than doubled in the five year period from 2013-17, compared to 2003-07.

Clarence Valley had a 92 per cent increase in these periods from 12 to 13.

Richmond Valley coastal areas had a 183 per cent increase from 12 to 34, but Richmond Valley hinterland areas had a 14 per cent decrease.

Compared to Sydney, residents of regional NSW are dying from unintentional overdoses at 33 per cent higher.

John Ryan, CEO of Penington Institute, said "few areas have been hit as hard by our overdose crisis as regional New South Wales".

"You're almost twice as likely to die of an unintentional drug overdose in regional NSW today than a decade ago," Mr Ryan said.

"In the five years between 2013 and 2017, there were 36 unintentional overdose deaths in the Tweed Valley. Not only is this a massive 125 per cent increase on the five years between 2003 and 2007 - it's 36 too many."

"Deaths in regional NSW involving benzodiazepines, pharmaceutical opioids, and stimulants are almost double those of Sydney in recent years."

Common examples of drugs include heroin, codeine, ice, MDMA, Diazepam, as well as other types of anti-psychotics and anti-convulsants.

Since 2008, 14,074 Australians have died from unintentional overdose - nearly twice the number of Australians who died in car accidents.

Mr Ryan said the rate of deaths in regional areas pointed to "a massive failure to provide the kind of services and interventions that we know save lives."

"We must treat overdose deaths as preventable. We know what works in saving lives and reducing the harms from overdose deaths. We're just not doing enough of it."

On its current trajectory, Penington Institute predicts that more than 1,900 Australians a year will die from unintentional overdoses by 2022.