Overdose deaths exceed road toll
QUEENSLAND deaths from accidental drug overdoses have more than doubled in a decade, surpassing the road toll, with people in middle age most at risk, an alarming new report has found.
The report by the not-for-profit Penington Institute, to be released on Tuesday, found 716 Queenslanders died from accidental drug overdoses in 2002-06, compared to 1455 in 2012-16.
Penington Institute chief executive John Ryan, an author on Australia's Annual Overdose Report 2018, will use its findings to lobby for better access to drug addiction treatment and will also call for a Productivity Commission review of state and federal drug policies.
He said only one in four Australians who needed drug treatment were receiving it.
"Politicians have got to acknowledge that this is a huge problem," he said.
"Overdose is a much bigger issue than the attention that's getting paid to it. It's killing so many people. As a community, we've been asleep at the wheel."
Across Australia, the report found rates of drug-related deaths in rural areas were significantly higher than metropolitan Australia.
In Queensland, the combined Sunshine Coast and Central Queensland region recorded rates of 8.1 deaths per 100,000 people as a result of accidental overdoses in 2012-16, compared with 5.8 in Brisbane north and 5.1 in Brisbane South.
"It used to be thought that there were only drug problems in the city and so that's what people paid attention to but that's completely out of date," Mr Ryan said.
"Drug use problems are right across the country. The system needs to respond to people in all sorts of places. People being able to access services in their local area is really important."
He called on rural general practitioners to become more involved in tackling drug addiction issues among their patients, describing them as a "huge untapped resource".
Mr Ryan said not enough GPs were prescribing the "opioid reversal drug" naloxone to patients at risk of overdose and their families.
"It has no abuse potential but yet it's not readily available in the community to reverse overdoses," he said.
Australia-wide in 2016, 68 per cent of accidental drug-related deaths annually occurred in the 30 to 59-year age group.
Most overdose deaths are the result of a combination of drugs. However, pharmaceutical opioids, such as the prescription painkillers oxycodone and morphine, are implicated most often.
In 2002-06, 105 Queenslanders died as a result of accidental overdoses involving pharmaceutical opioids compared with 616 in 2012-16 - a 450 per cent jump on a per capita basis.
Benzodiazepines - drugs prescribed as sleeping tablets or as anti-anxiety medication - were implicated in 412 accidental overdose deaths in Queensland in 2012-16, up from 72 in 2002-06 - a spike of more than 570 per cent before population increases are taken into account.