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Men aged between 30-59 are at greatest risk of drug overdose

Photo: Middle-age men highest risk of overdosing
New statistics show men aged between 30-59 are at greatest risk of dying from a drug overdose in Australia.

Too many older men are dying from accidental drug overdose in Australia and opioids, a pharmaceutical form of heroin, are to blame, according to a new report.

The Penington Institute report, Australia's Annual Overdose Report 2016, shows the number of middle-aged Australians who died from a drug overdose has skyrocketed in the past decade - bucking the stereotype that it's the young, homeless illicit drug user most at risk of overdosing.

Based on data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2014 people aged 30-59 accounted for 78 per cent of all overdose deaths.

Deaths among those aged 40-49 almost doubled from 174 deaths in 2004 to 342 in 2014.

More men overdosed than women, with 762 men and 375 women dying from an accidental drug overdose.
"These figures challenge the conventional wisdom that it is young urban people who are most at risk of dying of overdose in Australia," said John Ryan, chief executive of the Penington Institute.

The report also paints a "grim" picture on accidental drug overdose in Australia, said Mr Ryan.

Despite common perceptions that illicit drugs are to blame , prescription medications, such as oxycodone and benzodiazepines like Valium, were responsible for 71 per cent of all overdoses.

Accidental deaths from overdose reached 1137 in 2014, a rapid rise from 705 deaths in 2004 and a 61 per cent increase in a decade.

Amanda Roxburgh, a senior researcher at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at UNSW, says unfortunately many people suffering from chronic pain start escalating the dose of their prescription medication and throw other drugs into the mix, putting them at increase risk of death.

"It's fair to say that a lot of overdose deaths in Australia they're predominantly multiple drug deaths. There are very few overdose deaths that are attributable to the presence of one drug alone, it's often in the context of multiple drug use," Ms Roxburgh said.

Both Mr Ryan and Ms Roxburgh say more effective education on opioids is needed to save lives.

Over the period 2008-2014 there was an 87 per cent increase in prescription opioid deaths in Australia, with the greatest increase occurring in rural and regional Australia which saw a 148 per cent increase.

"These grim figures underscore how severe the overdose crisis is in Australia," said Mr Ryan.

"It is now time for significant investments to be made to reduce the human toll from accidental overdose.

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