MORE than 60 people have died from drug overdoses on the Border and North East in recent years, according to new research.
The Penington Institute overdose report shows 64 people died in Albury-Wodonga and surrounding towns between 2012 and 2016.
Prescription medication, including opioids like fentanyl, oxycodone and codeine, and sleeping tablets, are an increasing problem with institute head John Ryan labelling the figures “alarming”.
Statistics also show an increase in overdoses linked to amphetamines, including ice.
Albury Wodonga Health alcohol and other drugs clinical consultant Alan Fisher said opioid deaths emerged as a significant problem between 2009 and 2011, with powerful pain medication fentanyl the major killer.
“That was around the time that a lot of fentanyl patches ended up in the wrong hands for the wrong reasons,” he said.
“It has moved on – there was a decrease in fentanyl prescriptions, but then other drugs such as oxycodone and benzodiazepines began to be prescribed.
“The combination of those drugs is quite dangerous.
“We’re really trying to continue our best efforts to get even more awareness about the issue, particularly around prescriptions, and also the risk of the drugs.”
Many deaths involve multiple drugs.
Dr Fisher said the combination of benzodiazepines and opioids was particularly concerning and was responsible for most overdoses.
“Once you combine one drug with another drug, it does amplify the strength of them,” he said.
“The problem with people using those substances to get euphoria is the window between being intoxicated and stopping breathing is very narrow.”
Dr Fisher said there was no doubt opioids were overprescribed.
A seminar will be held in Albury next month featuring experts in anaesthetics, emergency medicine and chronic pain management.
The group will discuss the use of opioids for pain management and the issues associated with them.
Albury Wodonga Health has done a lot of educational work about prescriptions and giving people the right amount of medication when they are discharged from hospital, Dr Fisher said.
“We are concerned,” he said.
“On the Border, we’ve really put quite a lot into educating the medical community about the risk of overprescribing and will continue to do that.”
Mr Ryan is urging the Federal Government to review fentanyl prescriptions and increase treatment access, and said drugs should be a health issue, not a law enforcement issue.
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