Five drug-induced deaths per day among Australians in 2020, report finds

The latest Drug Trends report from UNSW’s National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre shows more than 1800 drug-induced deaths in Australia in 2020.

There were 1842 drug-induced deaths among Australians in 2020, according to preliminary estimates in a new report by the Drug Trends Program at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) at UNSW Sydney. This is equivalent to five drug-induced deaths per day or 7.2 deaths per 100,000 Australians.

Drug Trends Program lead Dr Amy Peacock said the report presents findings on all deaths in Australia from 1997 to 2020 where drugs have been deemed the underlying cause.

“In 2020, drug-induced deaths were nearly twice as frequent among males than females (64 percent versus 36 percent) and the highest percentage of deaths was among people aged 35-44 (25 percent or 466 deaths) and 45-54 (24 percent or 437 deaths),” Dr Peacock said.

There were 524 drug overdose deaths involving amphetamines, which is equivalent to 2.1 deaths per 100,000 people.

“Following a period of relative stability, the rate of drug overdose deaths involving amphetamines has increased substantially from 2011 to 2020. The rate recorded in 2020 is the highest across the period of monitoring,” Dr Peacock said.

“Although drug-induced deaths involving amphetamines may arise from a range of stimulants (e.g., methamphetamine, MDMA, dexamphetamine), composition of the Australian market and previous analysis of amphetamine deaths gives confidence that most of these cases relate to methamphetamine.

“These findings reinforce the importance of substantial investment to develop more effective treatment options and maximise treatment access and coverage for methamphetamine dependence,” she said.

Jake Docker, CEO of the Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL), said these findings also demonstrate the importance of a national overdose strategy which has clear indicators to end all overdoses.

“While we welcome the investment in naloxone to reduce opioid overdoses, the findings from this report clearly demonstrate that much more needs to be done to prevent overdoses resulting from methamphetamine and other stimulants.”

Overall trend in drug-induced deaths

  • Preliminary estimates indicate there were 1842 drug-induced deaths among Australians in 2020, equivalent to 1.1 percent of all reported deaths in Australia. This equates to 7.2 deaths per 100,000 Australians.
  • There was a peak in the number and rate of drug-induced deaths in the late 1990s, followed by a decline in the early-mid 2000s.
  • The annual number of drug-induced deaths in Australia has subsequently increased. Indeed, annual estimates for 2015-2020 are higher than those observed in the late 1990s. The highest recorded annual number of drug-induced deaths across the total period of monitoring occurred in 2017 (1991 deaths). However, estimates for 2018-2020 are likely to increase with further data revisions.
  • The rate of drug-induced deaths (adjusting for age and changes in population size) also gradually increased from the mid-2000s, rising to 8.2 deaths per 100,000 people in 2017. In contrast with the number of deaths, this rate was lower than that observed in the late 1990s (9.1 deaths per 100,000 people in 1999).
  • The annual population rates of drug-induced deaths for 2018-2020 are lower than 2017, but are likely to increase with data revisions. Preliminary estimates do not currently suggest a statistically significant change in the rate of deaths between 2019 and 2020.

Read the report: Trends in overdose and other drug-induced deaths in Australia, 1997-2020.

People can access free and confidential advice about alcohol and other drugs by calling the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline – 1800 250 015.

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