International Overdose Awareness Day: Calls for greater focus on prevention and harm reduction

In News by AIVL

The Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL) is calling for a greater focus on key prevention and harm reduction initiatives on International Overdose Awareness Day today. In particular, AIVL is calling for the implementation of widespread peer distribution of the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone and enhanced resourcing for peer-based overdose prevention programs across the country.

“The National Drug Strategy refers specifically to the need to prevent and respond to overdose ‘including increased access to naloxone’.1 On International Overdose Awareness Day, the focus is on those initiatives that prevent overdoses and save lives. In the context of rising rates of overdose across the country, there really needs to be an enhanced focus on the implementation of evidence-based prevention and harm reduction measures,” said Melanie Walker, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of AIVL.

The Penington Institute released Australia’s Annual Overdose Report 2019 earlier this week, finding that: “In 2017, there were a total of 2162 drug-induced deaths in Australia, a significant increase from 15 years prior (1231 in 2002). Of the 2162 drug-induced deaths in 2017, the majority (1612) were unintentional.”2 The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre’s (NDARC) recently released Trends in Drug-Induced Deaths in Australia, 1997–2017 report concurs that the rate of deaths involving opioids has increased over the past decade and points out that many of the deaths caused by opioids also involved other sedative medicines, such as benzodiazepines, antipsychotics and pregabalin. In 2016–17, pregabalin was the sixth most prescribed subsidised medicine in Australia.3

“Each year the national road toll is consistently exceeded by the number of Australians losing their lives to accidental drug overdose,”4 Ms Walker said.

“International Overdose Awareness Day is a global event held on the 31 August each year, aiming to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of drug-related deaths. It acknowledges the grief felt by families and friends remembering those who have met with death or permanent injury as a result of drug overdose. As part of International Overdose Awareness Day, AIVL’s member organisations around the country will be undertaking activities to promote awareness and prevention and remember those lost,” she said.

“A key message is that the tragedy of overdose deaths is preventable. In this context, it’s important to focus on practical things that can be done right now in Australia to save lives. People who use drugs have an important role to play as part of broader prevention and harm reduction efforts. Enabling greater access to naloxone and peer-based overdose prevention programs are practical ways that governments can help people to protect themselves and prevent overdose deaths, which would be a wonderful outcome for individuals, families and the broader Australian community.”

AIVL is the national organisation representing people who use/have used illicit drugs and is the peak body for the state and territory peer-based drug user organisations.

Jake Docker, CEO, AIVL – email

1 National Drug Strategy 2017–2026
2 Australia’s Annual Overdose Report 2019 
3 Trends in Drug-Induced Deaths in Australia, 1997–2017 
4 Australian Government Road Safety Statistics

Want to know more?

Contact the Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL).