Almost one death a day as Victoria’s overdose crisis continues

Penington Institute

Australia’s Annual Overdose Report 2020, released today by Penington Institute, has revealed that 355 Victorians died of unintentional overdose in 2018, confirming that Victoria remains in the grip of a long-term crisis.

Overdose deaths continue to be suffered by Victorians from all corners of the state and involve many different types of drugs.

Victoria continues to experience higher rates of unintentional overdose deaths involving heroin than most other states and territories.

The rate of unintentional overdose deaths in Victoria that involved heroin surged by a stunning 50 per cent in the five years from 2014 to 2018, reaching a rate of 2.4 per 100,000 in 2018. That corresponds to a total of 158 Victorians who died from an overdose involving heroin in 2018 alone.

However, the concerning rises in deaths are by no means limited to illicit drugs.

Between 2014 and 2018, 600 Victorians died of unintentional overdoses involving pharmaceutical opioids, virtually double the corresponding figure of 306 between 2004-08.

Meanwhile, the number of Victorians who died of overdoses involving benzodiazepines nearly tripled in the five-year period from 2014-18 (when there were 896 such deaths) compared to the five years from 2004-08 (when there were only 304). In 2018, 185 Victorians died from a drug overdose involving a benzodiazepine.

Australia’s Annual Overdose Report 2020 also lays bare the devastating toll that stimulant drugs like ice are having on communities in regional and rural Victoria.

In the five years from 2004 to 2008, there were 107 unintentional overdose deaths involving stimulants like methamphetamine ice. In the five years from 2014 to 2018, that number increased by more than five times to 539 unintentional deaths involving stimulants. 127 Victorians lost their lives to unintentional overdoses involving stimulants in 2018.

Australia’s Annual Overdose Report 2020 also marks one decade of regional and rural Victoria experiencing higher rates of unintentional overdose deaths than Melbourne. This gap continues to widen with the rate of deaths from an overdose reaching 7.6 per 100,000 in rural and regional Victoria compared to 5.0 per 100,000 in Greater Melbourne.

Further still, this year’s Report reveals massive five-year totals of unintentional overdose deaths for some of the most common drugs in Victoria’s homes and communities, including:

• 896 unintentional overdose deaths involving benzos in the 5 years from 2014-18

• 683 unintentional overdose deaths involving heroin in the 5 years from 2014-18

• 600 unintentional overdose deaths involving pharmaceutical opioids in the 5 years from 2014-18

• 539 unintentional overdose deaths involving stimulants in the 5 years from 2014-18

Overall, Australia’s Annual Overdose Report 2020 paints a deeply concerning picture of a rising long-term trend in overdose deaths in Victoria that is likely to see further increases in future years as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the health toll of restrictive lockdowns.

As noted by Mr John Ryan, CEO of Penington Institute:

“Every day, one family and one community lost someone to a preventable overdose in Victoria. Those 355 people represented a true cross-section of our state: young and old, country and city, people with health issues and those who you’d never guess used drugs.”

“2018 marked the fifth straight year of 300+ Victorians passing away due to unintentional overdoses. In two of those years, that number exceeded 400.”

“683 unintentional deaths involving heroin in the years from 2014 to 2018 suggests that, two years on, we finally have definitive proof that the decision to announce a trial supervised injecting room in Melbourne was the right call. That’s one example of an evidence-based response to increased drug harms. The challenge is to go further and develop policies informed by data like what is in Australia’s Annual Overdose Report.”

“It’s time for the Take Home Naloxone pilot, which ensures that naloxone, a medicine that reverses an opioid overdose, gets into the hands of people who need it. It’s time to extend the pilot beyond the three current states to benefit all Australians in all states and territories.”

“This is Australia’s hidden health crisis. By releasing this Report, we’re looking to start a conversation and bring overdose out of the shadows.”

“Penington Institute is releasing this year’s Annual Overdose Report on International Overdose Awareness Day, the world’s largest annual campaign to end overdose, remember those who have died without stigma and acknowledge the grief of the family and friends left behind.”

“International Overdose Awareness Day was first observed in Melbourne in 2001. This year is the 20th IOAD and it is being recognised with events around the world, including local landmarks like Melbourne Town Hall, Flinders St Station, the Melbourne Star, Bolte Bridge, AAMI Park and Ballarat Town Hall being lit purple in support of the campaign.”


Drug types

Common examples

Illicit opioids


Pharmaceutical opioids

Oxycodone, Codeine, Fentanyl


Methamphetamine (“ice”), Ecstasy (MDMA)


CBD, Synthetic cannabis, Hashish


Diazepam, Temazepam


Zoloft, Prozac, Lexapro


Quetiapine, Olanzapine, Risperidone


Pregabalin, Gabapentin

About Penington Institute

Penington Institute connects lived experience and research to improve community safety in relation to drugs, including alcohol and pharmaceuticals.

/Public Release. This material comes from the originating organization and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length.