Australian prescription drug deaths increase 98% in 3 years

Dr Alex Wodak, head of the Alcohol and Drug Service at Sydney, NSW, St Vincent's Hospital: "we are very exposed to this risk".

The number of prescription drug deaths in people aged 15 to 54 in Australia has increased by almost 96 percent in three years, leading one drug and alcohol expert to proclaim “we’ve got one hell of a problem”.

Dr Alex Wodak, a drug and alcohol expert at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney said the deaths from prescription painkillers such as oxycodone and morphine were tragic and avoidable, representing the “equivalent of two jumbo jets crashing in the air”.

Researchers at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) at the University of New South Wales said 500 people died from prescription drug overdoses in 2008, compared to 360 in 2007, with figures for 2010 (yet to be ratified) seeing 705 deaths from prescription drug overdoses.

According to the NDARC report only 30 per cent of the deaths in 2008 were related to heroin, with the remainder due to opiates, such as morphine and oxycodone, both prescribed by doctors for sever pain relief.

Prescription painkiller deaths in Australia rose by 98% in three years

Prescription painkiller deaths in Australia rose by 98% in three years. Graphic: Courtesy Difference between

The report mimics similar findings in the USA (See: Drug poisoning deaths exceed deaths from auto wrecks in USA) where the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US-CDC) shows that in 2008 deaths from prescription drugs became the leading cause of injury death in the USA.

The US report said that opiates were present in more than 40 per cent of deaths from prescription drug overdoses in 2008, with the number of deaths from prescription drugs in the USA increasing by 90 per cent in the last decade.

The current rate of opiate-related deaths in Australia is the most since the height of the heroin epidemic in the late 1990s when more than 1000 Australians a year were dying from opiate overdose.

According to a recent study in the Medical Journal of Australia the rate of doctors prescribing oxycodone between 2002 and 2008 soared by 152 per cent, with a high number prescribed for patients in their 60s, following the Australian Federal Government removing restrictions on the availability of pharmaceutical opiates more than a decade ago.

According to James Pitts, CEO of drug rehabilitation service Odyssey House, doctor shopping has also become a serious issue. “There’s a big financial incentive in this. You can get a prescription of 20 to 30 tablets for about $50 or $70 a piece.”

Source: Perth Now: ‘HELL OF A PROBLEM’: Prescription drugs fuel alarming death spike

Related: Drug poisoning deaths exceed deaths from auto wrecks in USA

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prescription drug deaths • oxycodone • heroin • Dr Alex Wodak • NDARC • drug and alcohol
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John Le Fevre

Editor at
John Le Fevre is an Australian national with more than 30 years' experience as a journalist, photographer, videographer and copy editor. He has spent extensive periods of time working in Africa and throughout Southeast Asia and previously held senior editorial staff positions with various Southeast Asia English language publications and international news agencies. He has covered major world events including the 1991 pillage riots in Zaire, the 1994 Rwanda genocide, the 1999 East Timor independence unrest, the 2004 Asian tsunami, the 2009 Songkran riots in Bangkok, and the 2010 ant-government Bangkok protests. In 1995 he was a Walkley Award finalist, the highest awards in Australian journalism, for his coverage of the 1995 Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) Ebola outbreak.


Australian prescription drug deaths increase 98% in 3 years — 1 Comment

  1. Any time a person is diagnosed with HIV the doctors office must tell the CDC. The doctor would not lie to you. If you are worried then go to a different clinic and get another one. It takes about 6months to show up. I would accept the results, be happy, and now on use condoms.

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