Drug abuse: It’s a silent yet deadly epidemic that’s been secretly sweeping across Australia for decades.
And as this hidden scourge continues to worsen, the death toll due to drug overdose will keep rising with it.
In fact, according to the Pennington Institute’s Australia’s Annual Overdose Report 2020, there were 2,070 drug overdose deaths in 2018. That figure is nearly twice the number of accidental road deaths (1,220) in that same year.
Just how bleak is the situation? And what can you, as an employer, do to protect your company and employees from this lethal epidemic?
Australia’s annual overdose report
In preparing their overdose (OD) report annually, the Pennington Institute compiles official data validated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. They then highlight significant statistics as well as trends over time.
Below, we’ve taken the liberty of citing some of the key findings of the 2020 OD report that may be most relevant to you and your company. You may also download the report, which tracked data from 2018, here.
Drug overdose mortality rate
According to the 2020 OD report, drug overdose claimed 10,834 Australian lives in the period spanning 2014 to 2018. That’s an average of 2,167 people lost to drugs per year, or nearly six per day, over the course of those five years.
As though that data weren’t already staggering enough, the relationship between deaths due to overdose and road accidents paints an even darker reality. One that shows the growing enormity and invasiveness of the drug abuse problem.
From 2001 to 2018, drug overdose mortality steadily rose by 3% each year. Meanwhile, deaths due to road accidents (also referred to as road toll in the report) decreased by 2% annually over the same period.
Unintentional drug overdose deaths
Heroin overtook pharmaceutical opioids as the leading caused of overdose fatalities in Australia. This marked the first time since 2003 that opioids did not lead the country in this grim category. However, opioids were still the most common drug type identified in overdose deaths. In fact, 900 Australians died because of unintentional opioid overdose in 2018.
Of the 2,070 overdose deaths in the country in 2018, nearly three-quarters (75.2%) or 1,556 were classified as unintentional overdoses. That figure averages to around four unintentional overdose fatalities daily, or one death every 5.6 hours.
The OD report also found that these unintentional drug-induced deaths were:
- three times likely to be men (71.5%) than women (29.5%). Moreover, the incidence of overdose in both sexes has increased since 2012, up by 36.8% in men and 4.7% in women.
- most common in those aged 50 and over (40.6%), followed by those aged 40-49 age (26.9%).
- three times likely to be aboriginal in ethnicity. The report cited the alarming ratio of 17 per 100,000 accidental drug-induced deaths in aborigines versus six deaths per 100,000 in non-aboriginal people.
- more likely to come from regional and rural areas. These areas reported a rate of 7.3 deaths per 100,000 in contrast to urban areas which posted a rate of 5.8 deaths per 100,000.
John Ryan, CEO of the Penington Institute, brought attention to the tragic nature of these trends.
“”It’s really sad also that people are dying, basically in the prime of their life,” he said. “The worst-off aged group is the forties to fifties.”
Dangers of polydrug use
Another disturbing finding involved the use of polydrugs. This is when drug users combine four or more substances to make a more potent drug. The report showed that overdose deaths due to polydrug use continue to trend upward.
Mr. Ryan stressed that polydrug use should be a major concern for the country. He said the number of overdose deaths related to the dangerous drug mixture increased from 163 in 2013 to 582 in 2018.
The data revealed in Pennington Institute’s OD report provide a distressing snapshot of Australia’s persistent drug problem. Clearly, this problem is more than just a social issue. It’s a health crisis with wide reaching effects.
As more people succumb to the lure of substance abuse, their lives, families, and futures will hang in the balance. Should this menace invade your workplace, your company’s fate will be at risk, too.
Drug overdose — A secret illness
One of the biggest hurdles in addressing the drug problem is the lack of openness among Australians. Many people treat the issue as a secret illness, something that should be veiled in secrecy.
This is understandable, of course. People don’t speak honestly about their drug use issues because of shame and societal pressures.
Legal consequences also weigh heavily on drug users. In this regard, Mr. Ryan lamented that state and federal governments still remain stuck on what he called the old fashioned war on drugs mindset. “We’re not mainstreaming it as a health issue,” he said, because “the whole emphasis has always been on law enforcement.”
“The thing that really irks me is that it’s not getting the attention that it deserves,” Mr Ryan said.”The scale of the problem is not matched by the scale of the response. And I think that’s a real tragedy.”
That’s because keeping the problem buried prevents drug users from seeking and receiving immediate intervention. Those who are capable of helping can’t reach these drug abuse victims because of this barrier.
In the workplace, business leaders can help their employees address potential drug-related issues. You can identify at-risk individuals or situations by having well-designed Drug and Alcohol testing programs. You’ll be doing yourself and your company a favour if you stop the problem now.