The number of drug overdose deaths in Rockhampton has more than doubled in four years.
The number of drug overdose deaths in Rockhampton has more than doubled in four years. MELANIE FOSTER

Rocky's alarming spike in drug deaths one of nation's worst

DEATHS from drug overdoses have more than doubled in Rockhampton over the past four years.

New research from the Penington Institute has revealed the rates of drug overdose in Australia, with 66 drug-related deaths in Rockhampton and surrounding areas from 2012 to 2016 one of the most alarming spikes in the nation.

This is a dramatic increase from the 27 deaths (accidental, suicidal, homicidal and undetermined) from 2002 to 2006.

John Ryan, CEO of the Penington Institute, said this increasing trend was "a major concern”.

"An increase of 39 deaths in the years spanning 2012 to 2016 compared to 2002 to 2006 should act as a strong wakeup call,” he said.

"This is a dramatic increase in the death toll; it's one of the most significant in any part of Australia.

"The drug overdose crisis is hitting Queensland, including regional and rural areas, particularly hard.”

READ MORE: Overdose deaths exceed road toll in Qld

The drugs claiming the most lives from 2001 to 2016 were opioids such as codeine, heroin, oxycodone and fentanyl.

However, the report has also shown an increase in the number of deaths stemming from use of sleeping tablets and anxiety medication, known as Benzos.

Mr Ryan said these drugs have become a silent killer with the number of deaths involving Benzos in Australia doubling in a decade.

READ MORE: Prescription meds have become 'silent killers'

Deaths involving amphetamines (including crystal methamphetamine or "ice”) have grown considerably in the past five years.

Amphetamines now surpass alcohol as the third most common substance detected in accidental drug related deaths.

Mr Ryan said accidental overdoses were the most common, caused by multiple drugs rather than a single substance.

"The drug fentanyl is enormous cause for alarm. It is a synthetic opioid, up to 100 times more powerful than pure morphine and it is a key and growing part of Australia's overdose crisis,” he said.

"It is claiming more lives than ever before.

"The number of accidental deaths involving fentanyl, pethidine and tramadol jumped nine times from 2001 to 2016.”

Mr Ryan called for the Federal Government to prioritise spending on treatment, prevention and harm reduction, rather than the huge focus around law enforcement and supply reduction.



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