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Overdose problem in Australia is getting worse

Photo: Nation's overdose problem 'getting worse'
There were more than 1600 unintended overdose deaths in Australia in 2017, according to a drug research body, which argues the problem is "getting worse".

Having lost a partner and a close friend to overdose, Kayla Caccaviello considers herself lucky.

The Melbourne woman struggled with addiction herself for more than a decade and has survived to tell the tale, but new data shows many Australians are not so fortunate.

Australia's Annual Overdose Report 2019 - released by the Penington Institute on Tuesday - found there were 1612 unintentional overdose deaths in 2017.

Ms Caccaviello's struggle began with pain medications she was prescribed as a teenager to deal with migraines, stemming from trauma she experienced in her youngest years.

"From there, I just started seeking out drug use," the now 28-year-old told AAP.
"When I started using things like ice and sucked me in."

Ms Caccaviello felt she needed drugs to cope but took no joy in them, watching as they gradually destroyed her life.

Her family turned away from her and she soon realised that she had no-one to lean on, leaving her feeling like an empty shell.

"Addiction took away more than it ever gave to me."

She had tried detoxes, rehabilitation programs and hospital visits, with no success.

But at 23, holding a family friend's baby made her want to try seeking support again.

Ms Caccaviello attended a rehabilitation program and met Aaron Short, a fellow recovering addict with whom she formed a relationship and credits with giving her hope.

"From then on, my life got better."

The pair returned to school to study the drug and alcohol sector but part-way through the course, in 2015, Aaron relapsed and died.

Years later in 2019, Ms Caccaviello also lost a best friend to an accidental overdose.

"I'm a lucky one because I'm still standing," she said.

2017's figure of 1612 unintentional overdoses was lower than the 1704 the year before, but the Pennington Institute expects the 2017 figure to exceed that once coronial decisions are finalised.

For the first time, there were also more unintentional overdose deaths resulting from four or more substances than there were from a single drug, with 445 such deaths in the year.

Penington Institute chief executive John Ryan says the data shows Australia's overdose problem is "getting worse".

The nation must start taking more of a health-focused approach to drug use if it wants to reduce the number of deaths, instead of focusing on crime, he believes.

"We've basically been determined to pretend that we can manage drug use in Australia by focusing mostly on law enforcement rather than focusing mostly on people," he told AAP.

Ms Caccaviello stressed the need to break down stigma around addiction, as people simply don't know how to get the right help.

"My friends weren't just junkies," she said.


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