October 2017

Shaking off the shame of overdose deaths

From a modest beginning in St Kilda in 2001, International Overdose Awareness Day has gained significant momentum, particularly in the US. This year there were 483 events in 19 countries registered on overdoseday.com, including 319 registered events in the US. Many other grassroots events were held locally.

Often people attend events on 31 August to remember a loved one. Evonne Sullivan in Ontario, Canada writes:

“I attended the event in Hamilton because in June my dear Roger lost his life. He was gone before we even knew anything was wrong due to drugs laced with fentanyl. He was so lovely and my heart is re-broken every morning I wake up.”

John Ryan CEO of Penington Institute, the organisation that has convened International Overdose Awareness Day since 2012, says that it’s an important opportunity for people to tell their stories about undergoing or witnessing overdoses, of recovering from them and of shaking off the shame.

“People are suffering in silence, so we want the day to be a chance to get them together, to activate them to say – let’s end overdose,” John says.

“International Overdose Awareness Day also reminds the broader community that overdose affects all of us and that no one is immune from it.”

People are suffering in silence, so we want the day to be a chance to get them together, to activate them to say – let’s end overdose.

John Ryan

Events held on 31 August 2017 included a march on the Whitehouse in Washington DC, a bike race in Nepal as well as naloxone and other training events across countries including the UK, Ireland, Canada, Norway and Costa Rica.

In Australia vigils, reflections, naloxone training and remembrance activities were held in locations ranging from Townsville to Perth and Darwin to Tamworth.

“We encourage event holders to campaign about recognising the signs and symptoms of an overdose and what people can do in a crisis,” John says.

To help highlight the problem of overdose in Australia Penington Institute produced a research report called Australia’s Annual Overdose Report 2017 to gain a better understanding of overdose trends taking place across Australia.

For more information about International Overdose Awareness Day visit: www.overdoseday.com

Key findings from the 2017 report include:

  • There were a total of 2023 drug-related deaths in Australia in 2015, up from 1313 deaths in 2001
  • A total of 1489 Australians died of an accidental overdose in 2015 – 1061 men and 428 women –this is more than double the number of deaths from car accidents in Australia in 2015 (712)
  • The majority of accidental overdose deaths in Australia are due to the use of legal and illegal opioids
  • Australia has experienced a significant increase in fatal overdose due to fentanyl, pethidine and tramadol
    • Between 2011 and 2015, 796 Australians died from overdose of these drugs
    • Fentanyl is the major factor driving this increase in deaths
  • Middle-aged Australians are far more likely to die from an accidental overdose – particularly those aged between 30 and 59
  • Queensland and Western Australia continue to be over-represented in accidental overdose deaths
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are significantly over-represented across overdoses from all drug type.