The silent killer in CQ taking more lives than our road toll
THERE'S a silent killer lurking in the region and the nation which doesn't grab the headlines, despite claiming more lives than the annual road toll.
For the fifth year straight, more than 2,000 Australians lost their lives in 2018 due to overdoses according to the Penington Institute's Australia's Annual Overdose Report for 2020.
This alarming loss of life was driven by opioids, stimulants (such as ice) and the use of multiple substances at the same time (known as polydrug use).
This death toll means, consistent with the Commonwealth Government's own estimate of the value society places on a year of life ($213,000 in 2019 dollars), overdose deaths cost our economy more than $13 billion every year.
In Central Queensland during the 2014-18 period, Rockhampton recorded the most overdoses with 48 deaths followed by Gladstone with 24, and Mackay with 21.
These numbers have remained stubbornly high for the past decade after nearly doubling the deaths recorded in the mid-late 2000s.
To mark International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31, Penington Institute Chief Executive John Ryan called for Australians to rally together to address this hidden health crisis which was costing billions.
"These deaths are preventable. We simply can't accept that 2,000 of our sons and daughters, mums and dads, and brothers and sisters die every year from a drug overdose," Mr Ryan.
"Over 400 more Australians die of unintentional overdoses than on the roads every year - and the gap is widening.
"Concerted campaigning, investment in evidence-based policies and community education has done a great job of bringing down the road toll. We must tackle our overdose crisis in the same way."
Looking deeper into the report's statistics it was clear Queensland struggled with an overdose crisis driven by several types of drugs, both legal and illicit, and continued to claim the lives of hundreds of people every year.
In 2018, 288 Queenslanders died of overdoses, with a total of 2,900 dying in the past decade.
Deaths involving stimulants (such as ice) increased from just 38 to an astounding 344, which only just trails behind New South Wales and Victoria and was the biggest relative increase of any state or territory over this time.
Queensland's long-term overdose crisis was not solely driven by illicit drugs.
No state or territory has suffered a larger relative increase in overdose deaths involving "Australia's silent killer" - benzodiazepines - with 522 Queenslanders dying of overdoses involving benzodiazepines in the past five years.
Residents of regional Queensland were more likely to die of overdoses than their counterparts in Brisbane.
Regional Queensland had a rate of 6.3 deaths per 100,000 people in 2018, compared to Brisbane which had a rate of 5.3 deaths per 100,000.
Penington Institute Deputy Chief Executive Stephen McNally said the overdose crisis was felt at all levels of society but the most recent data again shows some Australians were more vulnerable than others.
Age remained a risk factor for overdose death, with over 40 per ent of all unintentional overdose deaths in 2018 suffered by Australians aged 50 and over, while those in their 40s accounted for 27 per cent of the total.
He said unintentional overdose deaths occurred at higher rates in regional areas than in capital cities. In 2018, there were 7.3 unintentional overdose deaths per 100,000 people in rural and regional Australia, compared with 5.8 per 100,000 in the capital cities.
"We want Australia's Annual Overdose Report to encourage Australians from all walks of life to talk more about overdose and drug issues. That's vital if we're to bring this hidden crisis out of the shadows," Dr McNally said.
"The rich, middle and poor are all impacted by overdose. City and country too. It is not someone else's problem. It is an Australian problem that we must collectively face up to."
The Penington Institute has called on the Federal Government to bring down the overdose toll by committing to the following policies:
• Firstly, commit to a National Overdose Prevention Strategy. This strategy must leave no stone unturned. It should examine the drivers of overdose risk, access to proven interventions, and the adequacy of our existing efforts.
• Secondly, as a priority - expand the current pilot of Take Home Naloxone from NSW, South Australia and Western Australia to every state and territory. Naloxone is a safe, proven intervention that saves countless lives.
• Thirdly, the Federal Government must be realistic about the planned rollout of national real-time prescription monitoring. A deep-rooted social, health and legal problem can't be fixed with technology alone. Real-time prescription monitoring carries real risks of locking people out of receiving the care they need and diverting them to unsafe illicit drugs. Stopping access to pharmaceutical drugs without proper treatment will result in more deaths.