Prescription abuse on alarming rise
Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association calls for a national monitor scheme and more safe injecting rooms to help curb prescription abuse.PT0M53S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2ud2m 620 349 September 25, 2013
A total of 176 Victorians died of drug overdoses in the first half of this year - and the overwhelming majority of the deaths involved prescription drugs.
Figures released by the Coroners Court on Tuesday show the contribution of prescription drugs - 82 per cent of overdose deaths - far outweighed those of illicit drugs (44 per cent) and alcohol (30 per cent), with some deaths caused by a combination of drug types.
The figures put Victoria on track to exceed last year's total of 367 drug overdose deaths - higher than the road toll - and have prompted calls for increased drug treatment services.
Victoria's drug toll.
They show minor tranquillisers called benzodiazepines have overtaken opioids as the prescription drug type most commonly associated with drug deaths.
The tranquillisers - including alprazolam, commonly known as Xanax - contributed to 102 deaths in the first half of this year.
Prescription opioids, such as oxycodone and fentanyl, contributed to 94 deaths. Heroin was involved in 67 deaths.
Where is hit hardest by overdoses.
A Coroner's Court analysis of overdose deaths in 2010, 2011 and 2012 revealed that the City of Yarra had the highest rate of drug deaths in Victoria. The municipality, which includes Richmond, Collingwood and Fitzroy, was followed by the cities of Port Phillip (which includes St Kilda) and Melbourne.
The analysis also looked at drug deaths within Melbourne-based Medicare Locals, which are organisations that co-ordinate primary care in different areas. By Medicare Local areas, Frankston/Mornington Peninsula and inner north-west Melbourne had the highest rate of deaths involving prescription drugs.
Inner north-west Melbourne also had the highest rates of deaths involving illegal drugs and alcohol as well as the the highest rate of deaths involving prescription tranquillisers and opioids.
Frankston/Mornington Peninsula had the highest rates of deaths involving antidepressants and antipsychotics.
The figures also showed a higher rate of drug deaths in regional Victoria compared with Melbourne, when measured against population.
Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association executive officer Sam Biondo said the figures were cause for concern.
The higher death rates in regional Victoria could be blamed partly on difficulties in access to treatment due to ''a scarcity of resources and overburdened health and welfare services'', he said.
Mr Biondo said the data provided insight into drug harms by region and allowed for tailored responses that should include a supervised injecting room in the City of Yarra.
He said increased access to pharmacotherapy such as methadone was vital to driving down drug deaths, as were needle and syringe and pain management programs. Mr Biondo renewed calls for a ''real-time prescription monitoring system'' to alert doctors and pharmacists to individuals obtaining multiple prescriptions from various doctors to feed addictions. Federal and state governments say they are working to develop such a system.
Australia's drug regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, will also place more stringent restrictions on access to Xanax from next February. A licence will be required to prescribe the drug for longer than eight weeks or to a drug-dependent person.