Almost 1700 Australians die of illicit drug overdoses each year. These are peoples’ sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, neighbours, and friends.
With the 2016 National Drug Household Survey indicating that 42% of Australians over the age of 14 years were willing to admit to illicit drug use at some point in their lives, the issue of drug overdose touches the lives of more Australians than one might think.
Because drug use is so stigmatised, the general public seems to shy away from talking about overdose-related deaths. The Australian community deserves better!
For a country that was once a leader in embracing harm reduction, Australia is now at a point where is starting to lag significantly behind many western nations. In the 1990s, thanks to the embracement of harm reduction practices, Australia saw rates of HIV transmission among people who inject drugs that were 14 x less than that of the United States.
Now, embarrassingly, when we see the Biden administration currently investing upwards of $150,000,000 in specific harm reduction responses to drug-related harms, our last Australian Federal budget documents handed down by the Morrison government in March 2022, did not utter the words ‘harm reduction’ once.
Whilst we did see some investment in a response to the epidemic of opioid overdoses in Australia, they fell short of investing in strategies to go beyond the supply of medicines.
The annual numbers of overdose in this country have been consistent for over a decade. That clearly illustrates that the level of intervention over that time, particularly at a federal level hasn’t been working.
AIVL calls on the new Federal Health Minister, Mark Butler and the Albanese government to take a lead on change.
AIVL CEO, Jake Docker said: “The number of preventable deaths that we currently see in this country is not only a crisis and embarrassing but also shameful.”
“The formula for reducing the number of overdose deaths in Australia isn’t exactly rocket science. There needs to be national leadership in both developing a standalone National Overdose Strategy, a commensurate investment in Harm Reduction interventions to ‘demand reduction’ and ‘supply reduction’, [as pr the 3 pillars of harm minimisation referred to in the National Drug Strategy 2017-2026] and a serious advancement of drug law reform across all Australian jurisdictions with support from the Federal government” Mr. Docker concluded.
Australia’s response to HIV amongst people who inject drugs was led by a collection of peer-based organisations from the AIVL network. The establishment of Needle Syringe Programs across the country, was initially an act of civil disobedience by ‘peers’ that was designed to and resulted in saving countless lives. It is because of harm reduction practices and a brave community of people that we currently see around a 1% transmission rate of HIV among people who inject drugs, and a country that is ‘on track’ for reaching Hepatitis C elimination.
AIVL realises that the response to the overdose crisis in Australia isn’t something that the Federal Government can take on in isolation and hopes that the new government will realise the (currently) untapped potential that there is in partnering with the AIVL network. Our network has a decades long legacy of a peer-led response to reducing drug related harms and saving thousands of lives.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org