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Australia: Deaths caused by drug overdose surpass road toll

CANBERRA (Australia): A latest report revealed that the number of Australians dying from accidental drug overdoses has climbed by almost 40 per cent in the last decade.

Those dying from accidental overdose now exceeds the national road toll by several hundred people each year.

According to the latest figures released on Tuesday as part of Australia’s 2019 Annual Overdose Report,  a sudden rise in the number of overdose deaths involving heroin or illicit stimulants such as methamphetamine (or ice) in the last five years have been observed.

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.

“It’s time to call this what it is: Australia’s very own overdose crisis,” said John Ryan, CEO of not-for-profit public health organisation the Penington Institute, which commissioned the report.

“Make no mistake, it’s a crisis that’s getting worse,” he said.

Most overdose deaths involve multiple drugs. In fact, the report found that 2017 was the first year in which more accidental deaths were caused by a combination of four or more drugs than by a single drug.

Since 2012, there has been a nearly three-fold increase in accidental overdoses involving stimulants, and 2.4-fold increase in in accidental overdoses involving heroin.

Accidental deaths involving other prescription medications, such as anti-convulsant medications (sometimes used to treat neuropathic pain) and anti-psychotics, have also increased markedly in recent years.

While the preliminary findings show a slight decline in the overall number of accidental drug deaths from 2016 to 2017, Mr Ryan said the final number — currently pending coronial decisions — is expected to surpass 2016’s record high.