News & Events

Call to change the narrative on deaths by drug overdose

in News
29 Aug 2023


International Overdose Awareness Day on 31 August is a worldwide campaign to raise awareness and remember those we have lost to a drug overdose. A report produced to coincide with the day reveals that, of the 2,231 drug-induced deaths reported in 2021, 1,675 were unintentional.

The report by the Penington Institute, a not-for-profit Australian public health organisation that promotes evidence-based drug policy, reports 37,000 drug-induced deaths in Australia since the Awareness Day was started by the Salvation Army in 2001.

The day aims to highlight the toll of a health crisis that kills more people than the road toll. It is a hidden epidemic, far reaching and indiscriminate, leaving families isolated and thousands of people vulnerable to an early – and unnecessary death.

Odyssey House NSW CEO Carmel Tebbutt said the theme of this year’s awareness day was “recognising those who go unseen”.

“We need to raise awareness about the impact of death by overdose and the importance of evidence based drug policy to address this chronic disease that can strike indiscriminately,” she said.

“The first step to recovery is to start having a compassionate conversation about accidental overdoses so we can create lasting change.”

For 45 years, Odyssey House NSW has provided support and rehabilitation to those experiencing drug and alcohol dependency.

“Our mission is to build safe and healthy communities by helping people to address the underlying causes of their alcohol and /or drug use to regain physical and mental wellbeing and strengthen connections to family, friends and community.” Ms Tebbutt said.

“Our vision is a world free of addiction.”

Accidental fatal overdoses continue to be driven by opioids, especially in women, where synthetic opioids are twice as likely as heroin to cause death.

The issue is more prevalent in rural and regional areas but affects all socio-economic groups.

Accidental overdoses make up three-quarters of all drug-induced deaths.


Fast facts:

• Drug overdose was among the top three causes of death for people aged between 20 and 50
• Opioids are the main cause of death, followed by benzodiazepines and then stimulants such as meth-amphetamine and cocaine
• Aboriginal Australians are almost four times more likely to die by accidental overdose
• Only 40 per cent of people who recognise they have a problem with opioid dependence actively seek professional assistance
• Opioid dependence treatments have just been listed on the pharmaceutical benefits scheme, saving patients hundreds of dollars.

What you can do:

• Use the hashtag #weseeyou on social media to express your support
• Start a conversation and spread the word
• Change the narrative – addiction is a chronic disease
• Express your support for families who have lost people through overdose
• Write to your MP to ask them to support rehabilitation services such as Odyssey House NSW.