Prescription overdose deaths continue to climb

Organisations are again calling for real-time prescription monitoring across the nation to combat the alarming figures

The Penington Institute has released Australia’s Annual Overdose Report 2016 and its findings reveal a significant rise in overdose deaths over the past decade.

A snapshot of the results shows that:

  • Prescription opioids are the primary drug for people who overdose;
  • Between 2008 and 2014, there was an 87% increase in prescription opioid deaths, with the greatest increase in rural Australia (148% increase);
  • Drug overdose deaths in people aged 40-49 have almost doubled between 2004 and 2014;
  • In 2014, people aged 30-59 accounted for 78% of all overdose deaths;
  • In 2014, numbers of overdose deaths were significantly higher in rural and regional areas than in metropolitan areas; and
  • Men accidentally overdose at nearly twice the rate of women.

“These figures challenge the conventional wisdom that it is young urban people who are most at risk of dying of overdose in Australia,” says the institute’s CEO John Ryan.

“The report also indicates that more people die of an overdose of prescription medications such as oxycodone and benzodiazepines like Valium, than from illicit drugs.”

Following Tasmania’s lead

In response to the findings, non-for-profit organisation ScriptWise is calling on all states and territories to follow Tasmania’s lead in implementing a real-time monitoring system.

Currently Tasmania is the only Australian state to have an electronic recording and reporting of drugs system in place, which it adopted in 2008.

The Victorian government has also committed $30 million to adopt the system by 2018.

While the decision is ultimately in the hands of state governments, ScriptWise CEO Bee Ismeil says the Federal government can put more pressure on these governments to commit to the system.

“We’re calling once again for implementation of real-time monitoring around Australia. What we’re trying to do is get the Federal government to place more weight into each state to implement their own system,” she told AJP.

“We want them to encourage the remaining states to get on board,” says Ismeil, who is hoping to see a mandatory national real-time monitoring system established across the country.

Ismeil says there is a lot to learn from the system in Tasmania that was originally started as a pilot, and the upcoming Victorian system will most likely be expanded.

“Pharmacists in Tasmania can see what they’re dispensing, but what they’re looking at in Victoria is for pharmacists and GPs to be able to communicate with each other. It’s definitely going to be broader,” she says.

More crucial than ever

The move is more crucial than ever with the release of data by the Penington Institute this week, which reveals that overdose numbers are on the rise, she says.

“Numbers of overdose deaths are about to pass the national road toll. We want to make sure doctors and pharmacists are able to track prescriptions and give them that support,” she says.

While the electronic recording system is only set up to track S8 medicines at the moment, ScriptWise is hoping for it to be extended to S4 as well.

“We’re also lobbying for the state and federal governments to include S4 medicines including codeine and benzodiazepines, since evidence shows these are also behind many overdose deaths,” says Ismeil.

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia is on board with ScriptWise’s call for national monitoring to be a priority.

“For too long, the tragedy of overdose deaths has been a scourge in our society, with coroners around the nation lamenting the lack of action,” says Guild National President George Tambassis.

“It is high time for an effective real-time monitoring system to be in place across Australia because, quite simply, it will save lives.”

Other groups in support of a real-time reporting system include the RACP and RACGP.

See key points of the Penington Institute’s Australia’s Annual Overdose Report 2016 and request a copy of the full report.

Previous ABC amends website following CAM concerns
Next The gift that has stopped giving

NOTICE: It can sometimes take awhile for comment submissions to go through, please be patient.


  1. Andrew

    Lessons from the US – a 25% reduction in opiod overdoses in “legal states” – achieved in less than five years.

    The Pennington Institute recommended similar steps over a decade ago – instead we get an e-recording service. Follow the evidence, please.

    • Simon O'Halloran

      But what about all of the marijuana overdoses?

        • Simon O'Halloran

          Prescriptions of opioids and some pretty heavy adjuvants seem to be on the rise, and benzodiazepines are a continued problem. This coupled with Australia’s lax attitude to alcohol these reports of deaths (and serious injury) do not surprise me. Factor in the effects of people driving or occupational hazards the harm scale associated with such prescription use the results may be even more concerning.

      • Stanley Zhou

        It’s extremely difficult to ‘overdose’ on marijuana

        • Simon O'Halloran

          Indeed. Whilst not without harms, it is that far down the harm scale compared to alcohol, prescription opioids and benzodiazepines that it raises the question why Australia is dragging the chain re: legislature of medicinal cannabis. People still subscribe to the whole ‘reefer madness’ theory of decades ago which seems to be getting in the way of any progress in this space.

  2. beefarmer

    How many are using narcs as a suicide remedy? Then as far as ‘accidental’ is concerned, well..I just don’t think so.

  3. Peter Bayly

    i question the assumption that deaths in middle-aged men are accidental

Leave a reply