Overdose report shows more needs to be done

28 August 2023


The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA) is calling for governments, health workers and support organisations to work together to do more to tackle the ongoing challenge of deaths caused by intentional and unintentional drug overdose. 


The Penington Institute’s Annual Overdose Report, released today, found there were 2,231 unintentional drug-induced deaths in Australia in 2021. Opioids and benzodiazepines were among the most common drugs involved in accidental overdose deaths.  


The report showed more than two-thirds of all unintentional drug-induced deaths involved two or more drug types (72.5%), with presence of benzodiazepines (such as diazepam, lorazepam and alprazolam) increasingly implicated in unintentional drug-induced deaths.  Anti-depressants (38%), stimulants (35%), and alcohol (25%) were also observed in unintentional deaths with two or more drug types.  


PSA National President Dr Fei Sim FPS said the report was a sobering reminder of the work still to be done to prevent avoidable harm from drug, including prescription medicines.  


“More Australians are using more medicines than ever before, and prescribing of multiple medicines to manage health conditions is increasingly common,” Dr Sim said. “However, some drug-drug combinations dramatically increase risk of unintentional drug-related death or hospitalisation, as this data tragically shows. 


“Real Time Prescription Monitoring is now available and must be used by health professionals to have non-judgemental conversations with people about the potential risks associated with medicines – and particularly when multiple medicines are being used at the same time. RTPM is making an impact but is not the whole answer. More solutions are needed. 


“As health professionals, we need to expand the way we assess risk. We need to recognise that medicine sharing happens and should form a routine part of all patient conversations about risk.  


“We need to offer Take Home Naloxone routinely and repeatedly to any person at-risk of experiencing or witnessing opioid overdose, and to people taking other medicines in combination with prescribed or illicit opioids.” 


Dr Sim called for more support for our health workforce to have conversations with potentially at-risk individuals in a meaningful, non-judgemental and supportive way, including by increasing access to training, guidelines, peer support and fostering collaboration of health teams. 


“Pharmacists work with at-risk individuals every day, but need better funding and support to be able to make a meaningful impact in reducing death and injury which drug overdose can cause. This includes building workforce capacity to be more active in deprescribing roles, particularly in primary care,” she said. 


“Pharmacists are the custodians of safe use of medicines, we are the key to reducing medicine-related harm. Pharmacists should be empowered and supported to do more to prevent medicine-related harm.   


“Every unintentional medicine-related harm is a failure of our health system. There is clearly more work to be done. I commend the Pennington Institute for producing this annual report, and for its impact over the previous eight years.” 


Media contact:   Georgia Clarke   M: 0480 099 798  E: georgia.clarke@psa.org.au