Alarm on script drug abuse

Taelor PeluseyBusselton Dunsborough Times
Prescription opioid abuse is rife.
Camera IconPrescription opioid abuse is rife. Credit: AP

Prescription medication is being abused in the Capes regions at an unprecedented rate, prompting mental health experts to call for changes to the way drug-use matters are treated.

Australia’s Annual Overdose Report 2018 reveals drug-related deaths have quadrupled in Busselton, Dunsborough, Augusta and Margaret River in recent years, with 28 people dying from 2012-2016 compared with seven between 2002 and 2006.

The report, produced by the not-for-profit Penington Institute, highlights the opioid family — particularly prescribed opioids such as fentanyl and oxycodone — as a top killer, though most overdoses involve a combination of drugs which can include amphetamines, anti-anxiety and sleeping medication, and alcohol.

South West Counselling senior counsellor Debbie George said opiate abuse often resulted from high-level painkillers being prescribed for back problems or black market opiates to substitute heroin.

“Sadly these medications are used by some to relieve emotional as well as physical pain, combined with alcohol and or benzodiazepines — a deadly combination,” she said. “We need to look at over- prescribing, illicit supply and better ways to manage physical and emotional pain.”

Prescription opioid deaths rose by 87 per cent across Australia from 2008 to 2014 and middle-aged Australians are the biggest victims.

The benzodiazepine, or “benzo”, family is another emerging epidemic, with attributable deaths doubling.

Most overdoses are known to involve a combination of drugs.

Penington chief executive John Ryan said the alarming death toll should be “a wake-up call” and urged the Government to review the prescribing of the synthetic opioid fentanyl and focus on drug-use as a health, rather than legal problem.

“Most overdoses are pharmaceutical but most current attention is on supply and border control,” he said.

Ms George said it was “absolutely a health issue” and “should only be a criminal issue if illegal import and supply” is involved.

“Drug dependency is a complex issue rarely resolved by punishment, dependency a symptom not the cause,” she said.

South West Community Alcohol and Drug Service manager Jonathan Farr said it was difficult to track the extent of drug dependency in the region but it should “certainly be treated as a health issue”.

“What we do know is that all drugs, including alcohol and pharmaceutical medications, can cause an overdose,” he said.

“And the risk of having an overdose increases when different drugs are taken together.”

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