HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [5.40 pm]: I rise because tomorrow, 31 August, marks International Overdose Awareness Day. As its name suggests, it is a global event that aims to raise awareness of overdose and to reduce the stigma around drug-related deaths. It also serves to acknowledge the grief felt by family and friends who are remembering those who have died or have ended up with a permanent injury as a result of drug overdose. Members of the community can show their support for the day by wearing a silver badge and/or a purple wristband, and hopefully members have received them. Those symbols signify the loss of someone who has been very cherished and demonstrate support to those who are grieving. It helps send a message that every person’s life is valuable and that stigmatising people who use drugs needs to stop.
International Overdose Awareness Day is an initiative of the Penington Institute, of which our own Professor Fiona Stanley is a patron. The institute collaborates with and represents a broad range of sectors and organisations to identify and respond to specific substance use problems and their causes, and each year just before International Overdose Awareness Day, the institute produces a report that outlines key statistics relating to drug overdose deaths in Australia. I am going to take this opportunity to draw the house’s attention to some key findings from this year’s report.
Clearly, understanding the size and nature of the problem is key to evaluating how our current approach is working, so the government can then look to implementing evidence-based solutions to address emerging issues. Firstly, I should note that the Penington report focuses on accidental deaths and excludes data from deaths that are identified to be the result of suicide or homicide. This has been done with the intention of ensuring that drugs and the public health consequences that arise from their use remain the primary focus of the report. The data presented in this report highlights the changes and patterns of overdose deaths over time. Twenty years ago, the most common drug causing accidental death was heroin. I lost a couple of friends to heroin overdose. Today it is prescription opioids that are responsible for most overdose deaths—that is, prescription opioids that are legally available.
The data also demonstrates the magnitude of the problem. In 2016, of all accidental deaths in Australia, drugs were determined to be the primary cause of death in a staggering 23 per cent of cases. To give some more context, the number of accidental drug-related deaths is more than double the number of people killed in car accidents, so in 2016 that was 1 704 people compared with 751. Accidental deaths due to drugs have increased consistently over the past 15 years, and while many think overdoses occur in cities, particularly inner city environments, the data in the Penington report shows the highest growth in accidental drug-related deaths is actually occurring in regional areas. Again, counter to the popular convention that young people are at the greatest risk of overdose, the data is showing that people in the 30 to 59-year-old bracket are most likely to succumb to an overdose. In 2016, almost 70 per cent of people who died from a drug-related death were from that age group. Drug-related mortality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders is more than three times that of non-Aboriginal Australians.
I think all these statistics are deeply concerning, but the findings for WA are particularly grim. We are in the unfortunate position of being the state with the greatest increase in accidental drug-related deaths; in the past 15 years our numbers have almost doubled. Overall, this report shows that whatever we are doing in this space, it is not stemming the tide of harm related to drug use. Overdose is a public health issue and it is entirely preventable. We need to bring the issue out into the open and to focus on evidence-based solutions. Every life lost is a tragedy and we need to do more to save lives.