Strung out: Prescription drug abuse high

VALIUM and Xanax, rather than cocaine or ecstasy, are likely to spark drug-related ambulance call-outs in Wodonga, new data has revealed.

The abuse of prescription drugs puts more demand on the ambulance service in the North East than illegal drugs or alcohol.

The finding was contained in a report released yesterday, which for the first time published a breakdown of drug and alcohol ambulance call-outs across Victoria’s local government areas.

Similar data is not collected in NSW.

An analysis of Ambulance Victoria reporting showed paramedics in Wod­onga attended 104 cases involving drugs and 65 alcohol-related matters in 2011-12.

Wangaratta had 73 drug call-outs and 46 alcohol-related cases, while Indigo had 14 and eight respectively.

Notorious drugs such as heroin, cocaine and ecstasy failed to register among North East substance abuse reports.

The most common drug category was benzodiazepine, better known through branded products such as Valium.

It triggered 19 calls in Wodonga and 16 each in the Wangaratta and Moira council areas.

Opioid analgesics, which include the painkiller fentanyl, were responsible for 18 calls in Wodonga, putting the Border city fourth in regional Victoria for that category, ahead of larger centres such as Ballarat, Bendigo and Shepparton.

Anti-depressants such as Xanax prompted 13 calls in Wodonga and nine each in Wangaratta and Moira.

John Ryan, who heads the national drug harm reduction organisation ANEX, said the findings confirmed anecdotal suspicions.

“Drug and alcohol services such as Gateway Community Health in 

Wodonga have known for many years pharmaceutical drug misuse is higher than traditional illicit drugs such as heroin,” Mr Ryan said.

“This ambulance data confirms this for the first time.”

Mr Ryan said the prevalence of prescription drug abuse high­lighted a need for greater treatment services.

“Prescription drug misuse is a reflection of insufficient mental health as well as drug and alcohol treatment options, as well as comparatively less access to pain management services,” Mr Ryan said.

“Drug misuse often stems from emotional and physical pain, which if not addressed holistically can spiral toward pharmaceutical dependencies.”

Mr Ryan said he hoped a new Victorian government drug and alcohol plan, giving greater access to naloxone or narcan to tackle overdoses, would help.

“Naloxone (Narcan) provision for potential overdose witnesses is important to save lives, including in regional areas such as Albury-Wodonga where pills and fentanyl patches are more of a problem than heroin,” Mr Ryan said.

“Also, it’s unfortunate that there are not more doctors willing to prescribe methadone or buprenorphine so that more people have the opportunity to cut down and reduce opioid misuse.”

Victoria was working to raise numbers of doctors and pharmacists and that would be an opportunity for a far more local response than in the past, Mr Ryan said.

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