On International Overdose Awareness Day (August 31st) NSW Health reiterates the importance of ending the stigma surrounding drug use and dependence as often, this judgement can prevent people who use drugs from accessing support and treatment.
International Overdose Awareness Day aims to raise awareness of overdose risks, reduce the stigma of drug-related deaths, and acknowledge the grief felt by families and friends remembering those who have been lost or impacted by drug overdose.
Every year thousands of people in Australia overdose on prescription or illicit drugs, with a proportion of these overdoses being life-threatening.
Drug overdose deaths are predominantly driven by the use of opioids in combination with other drugs and alcohol. But overdose deaths can be prevented.
Professor Nick Lintzeris, Director of the South East Sydney's Local Health District Drug & Alcohol Service commented: "Drug and alcohol services and needle and syringe programs services in NSW have trialled a model for training our patients to prevent and recognise overdoses, and to correctly administer naloxone if someone they care about experiences an overdose.
"People who use drugs have shown they are committed to making a difference to the lives of their peers. We need to support them to do that."
Naloxone is a medicine that people can administer to a friend or loved one, to reverse the effects of an overdose from heroin or other opioid drugs.
If you use heroin/opioids or know someone who does, you can now access naloxone at pharmacies, without a doctor's prescription, for use in the event of an overdose emergency. You can ask your pharmacy to order this medication for you. Always be prepared and have naloxone on-hand before using heroin/opioids.
Mary Harrod, Chief Executive of NSW Users and AIDS Association (NUAA) said: "Overdose deaths have continued to increase in Australia with this preventable, tragic loss of life now exceeding the road toll.
"Each death is a tragedy and the impact on family, friends and the community is enormous. We need to raise our voices and say that not enough is being done – we need more education and prevention such as broad distribution of naloxone. If you or a loved one is at risk, please take a few simple steps to prevent overdose – never use alone, and don't mix drugs or mix drugs and alcohol."
NSW Health has a range of initiatives to minimise the risk from drug-related overdose and deaths, including:
- The Opioid Treatment program - a successful, evidence based public health program shown to improve the quality of life and well-being of patients and provide significant reductions in adverse health, social and criminal consequences;
- Funding the trial to supply naloxone to people through drug and alcohol and needle and syringe programs in metropolitan, rural and regional NSW;
- Regulating the prescribing and dispensing of Schedule 8 drugs of addiction;
- Working with the Commonwealth to develop real time prescription monitoring to reduce the misuse of pharmaceutical drugs;
- Information and advice for the community on the risks of pharmaceutical drugs provided through the NSW Health and the Your Room websites.
To speak to someone about naloxone, call the Alcohol & Drug Information Service (ADIS) – a free 24 hour helpline on 1800 250 015. If you or someone you care about is at risk of overdose, visit the NUAA website at nuaa.org.au
Want to learn more about some of the most commonly used drugs affecting Australians right now? Check out the Your Room A-Z Drug listing.