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The rise of drug overdoses

10 Sep 2013

Deaths from accidental and prescription medicine overdoses have, for the first time, exceeded the national road toll.

According to figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics road accidents in 2011 claimed 1323 Australian lives, compared to 1383 deaths from drug overdoses.

The ABS data also showed that in Victoria, 419 people died of drug overdoses while fewer than 360 died from road accidents.

In 1997, reliable drug overdose data became available and since then road deaths have fallen from around 24 per cent to less than 15 per cent, which is below the 15.2 per cent caused by drug overdoses. 

The Association of Needle Exchanges CEO, Mr John Ryan told, The Herald Sun that with more than three in four drug deaths deemed accidental, the revelation that the crossover point between road deaths versus overdoses, that had been reached, underlined the success in fighting the road toll and the need for greater efforts to tackle rising drug deaths.

“We need to tackle overdoses with the same determination because, at this rate, we may be heading the way of the US,” Mr Ryan said.

In an attempt to reduce the number of overdoses and adverse events linked to the drug, paracetamol, supermarkets will be banned from selling large packets of the painkiller. 

Starting from September, packets of paracetamol containing more than 21 tablets will only be available in pharmacies.

Eight thousand people a year are treated for paracetamol overdoses. It can result in liver damage and can be fatal in very high dosages.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) said it had taken into consideration the changes the US and the UK made by cutting the daily dose recommendations on its paracetamol products.

A spokeswoman for the TGA said it is expected that this decision will result in fewer people requiring medical intervention following a paracetamol overdose, as has been demonstrated in the UK. However, it will not alter its own higher recommended doses for patients in Australia.

Sanja Novakovic


Published: 10 Sep 2013