The 31st of August is International Overdose Awareness Day. This movement originated 16 years ago in Melbourne, Australia.

Sally Finn and Peter Streker were working in drug rehabilitation and community services and decided to hold a local event, handing out silver ribbons, to commemorate loved ones who had died from a drug overdose.

In the first year alone, 60,000 ribbons were given out around Australia. The event grew into an international event and was eventually taken over by the non-profit health body Penington Institute.

Grey ribbon

Australia has one of the world's highest rates of illegal drug abuse

According to World Health Organisation, Australia has the highest proportion of recreational drug users in the world. Their data shows that on average, 2.10% of Australians are drug users, compared to 1.6% of Americans.

An Australian Coroners Court report revealed a 75 per cent increase in overdose deaths due to illegal drugs since 2009.

“Data released by the Coroners Court of Victoria on overdose deaths concluded that the number has risen from 379 in 2009 to 453 in 2015. This is more than double the fatal road toll in Victoria for 2015. Importantly, most overdose deaths are actually due to combined drug toxicity – the fatal mixture of two or more drugs used together. ” – RACGP

There have been 30 Coroners calls in Victorian since 2012 for real time system to share pharmacy scripts. Most common drugs oxycodone, methadone, hydrocodine.

Dr Suzanne Neilsen said, from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) said there had been a particular increase in the number of pharmaceutical opioid-related deaths in the past decade. ABC news.

A Four Corners report Oxy: The Hidden Epidemic revealed that while Australian authorities battled illegal drug imports, the rise of legal drug abuse was being ignored.

Local police are turning to social media to raise public awareness

In September of 2016, the police department from East Liverpool, Ohio, USA published a picture on Facebook of 2 adults slumped unconscious from a drug overdose in the front seat of a car. A 4 year old boy wearing a dinosaur T shirt stared listlessly out of the back seat window.

The photo went viral. The police explained –

Posting the image online… was a way to protect the little boy in the dinosaur T-shirt.

They posted the photo as a desperate attempt to raise awareness of the drug problem they are currently facing. In 2015 3,050 people in the state of Ohio died of drug overdoses.

“We knew we would save this child,” said Brian Allen, director of public safety in East Liverpool.
He added: “We were hoping, anyway.”

Academics are charting the rising death rates among white rural males

In 2015 two Princeton economists also caused a scandal when they published a report proving that the death rate among white, middle-aged men was rising, rather than falling, as with most other groups.

Angus Deaton and his wife Anne Case showed that the death rate for working class white men, aged 45 and 54 had been steadily rising since 1999. Analysing data from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Angus and Anna concluded that this rise in death rates was not due to disease, but an epidemic of suicide and deaths from drug overdoses.

Angus Deaton

Over 50% of these deaths are due to the abuse of prescription drugs like Fentanyl and Oxycodone.

“This is part of the larger emerging pattern of evidence of the links between poverty, hopelessness and health.”
Harvard public policy professor Robert D. Putnam.

A pharmacy entrepreneur designs a new system to monitor drug abuse across Australia

Paul Naismith, one of Australia’s major healthcare entrepreneurs hosted an event at Agnes Health called Inside Word on Medication Management, on the 31st August 2017, as part of International Overdose Awareness Day.

Paul Naismith is the founder of Fred IT, Australia’s largest dedicated technology solution for the pharmacy industry.

After working as a pharmacist Paul says he became frustrated with poor use of technology, and subsequently created his own software firm. He now has 5,500 pharmacies in Australia currently using his software.

Paul pointed out that an average of 3 Australians are overdosing every day, and 69% of these deaths are due to misuse of legal prescription drugs. However Australia’s pharmacy IT remains fragmented and uncoordinated.

Paul Naismith

Overcoming information silos

Health data in Australia is currently locked up in information silos. Medicare, hospitals, GP’s clinics, private insurers and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme do not share data.

Paul talked about the need for the health stakeholders work together and cooperate.

Issues raised by software vendors in the room included a lack of financial support for putting the connecting software structures in place to link up different systems, and fear of litigation from patients due to unforeseen privacy breaches.

“Three Australia’s die every day from overdoses. Yet Australia has no integrated pharmacy software.”

Finally, let's look at the cause, not just the problem

After years of damming Coroner’s reports and lobbying by community groups, The Victorian Government has announced that they will spend $30 million to integrate pharmacy data, so the use of strong medications can be monitored in real time, preventing people from ‘Doctor Shopping’.

This policy comes after 372 Victorians died from an overdose of prescription medicines in 2016, more than double the state’s road toll from that year.

While integrated software is laudable, it is not going to stop deaths from suicide and addiction.

Rural and regional poverty, chronic unemployment, entrenched welfarism and poor work skills are just as prevalent in Australia as they are in America.

Perhaps our police departments should starting posting pictures of drug overdose victims on Facebook. It might jolt our pampered bureaucracy and politicians into action.


Posted to Facebook by Ohio Police Department, published in Stat Magazine.

© Wikihospitals September 2017