The Penington Institute’s stated mission is ‘to support cost-effective approaches that maximise community health and safety in relation to drugs’. This includes the International Overdose Awareness Day campaign, which is observed on 31 August each year as an opportunity to remember those who have been lost to drug overdose and reduce drug-related harm in society.
The Penington Institute also produces an annual report on Australian overdose statistics. The 2023 report has recently been released. This report highlights the significant impact of drug overdose in Australian society. Since 2014, unintentional drug-induced deaths have overtaken the national road toll, and this gap continues to widen.
'One Australian dies of overdose every four hours'
2,231 drug-induced deaths were reported in Australia in 2021, with 1,675 of these deaths unintentional. This means that on average, every four hours one Australian life is lost to drug overdose. Drug overdose was the third leading cause of death for men and women aged 20-29, the second-leading cause of death for men and women aged 30-39, and the third-leading cause of death for men and women aged 40-49.
Overdose deaths are not spread equally through society. Over one third of all unintentional drug-induced deaths occurred among residents from the most disadvantaged areas. The rate of unintentional drug-induced deaths among Indigenous Australians was almost four times that of non-Indigenous Australians (20 per 100,000 population, compared with 5.9 per 100,000 for non-Aboriginal people). Males are also over-represented, with 70% of unintentional drug-induced deaths in 2021 being men.
Which drugs are responsible for overdose deaths?
In 2021 opioids were the most common drug type involved in unintentional drug-induced deaths, contributing to 45.7% of total deaths. Since 2001 there have been increases in deaths involving heroin (from 101 to 297), methadone (from 95 to 186) and fentanyl/pethidine/tramadol (from 14 to 134).
Benzodiazepines were the second leading drug type associated with unintentional drug-induced deaths in 2021, contributing to 32.5% of total deaths. This figure has doubled over the past 20 years, with only 16.8% of unintentional drug-induced deaths involving benzodiazepines in 2001.
Stimulants such as methamphetamines contributed to 27.5% of unintentional drug-induced deaths in 2021. In 2001 this figure was just 5.4%.
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