Vol. 18, ed. 7

March 2022

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In the past decade, overdose deaths involving opioids and stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine have surged among African Americans, a recent study in the US has found.

Researchers identified a 575 per cent increase in cocaine/opioid mortality among African American people in the period 2009–19 compared with a 184 per cent increase among Caucasians. Overdose deaths due to methamphetamine and other stimulants are even more striking: a 16,200 per cent increase among African Americans versus a 3,200 per cent increase in the White population.

This extreme imbalance, sadly, mirrors very closely our local situation, where Indigenous Australians are alarmingly over-represented among people dying from overdose. The most recent edition of Australia’s Annual Overdose Report reveals that, compared to a non-Indigenous Australian, an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person is almost four times as likely to experience a fatal drug overdose, at a rate of 20 mortalities per 100,000 people.

A separate study also in the US has identified a fast-rising risk of overdose in another distinct cohort: older Americans.

Since the turn of this century, the number of opioid-related overdose deaths in the 54-year-plus age-group has increased more than 10-fold, from 0.9 per 100,000 people (518 fatalities) in 1999 to 10.7 per 100,000 (10,292) in 2019.

“We have stereotypes about who’s misusing opioids,” the study’s senior author, Lori Ann Post, says, “but in fact there’s this massive increase in opioid overdose deaths among older adults.” Lori Ann says cognitive decline can exacerbate this risk.

One city that’s not taking the opioid crisis lying down is Denver, Colorado, where home-delivered naloxone is now available free of charge.

In mid-February Denver began shipping Narcan kits (accompanied by fentanyl test strips) on request to its residents.

After watching a five-minute video that demonstrates naloxone use, anyone can order a free Narcan delivery – much to the relief of harm reduction workers who are celebrating this initiative in a state where 1,825 people died of overdose in the 12 months to September 2021.

Please enjoy this new March magazine, where we examine fentanyl from the Australian perspective, revisit the Take Home Naloxone Pilot, receive tips from our frontline colleagues on explaining NSP work to the general public and hear about Canada’s drug related successes and challenges.

As always, please share this issue widely across your networks and let us know what you’d like to read in the coming months.


John Ryan
CEO, Penington Institute