Ten consecutive years of 200+ overdose deaths in Queensland

Penington Institute

New data released today in Penington Institute’s Australia’s Annual Overdose Report 2020 shows that 288 Queenslanders have died of overdoses in 2018, confirming that Queensland’s overdose crisis has now entered a second decade.

This latest data brings the death toll from a drug overdose to more than 2,900 in the ten years to 2018.

These shocking statistics have been driven by a huge increase in the number of unintentional overdose deaths involving stimulant drugs such as ice over the period 2004-08 to 2014-18. Deaths involving stimulants increased from just 38 to an astounding 344, which only just trails behind NSW and Victoria and is the biggest relative increase of any state or territory over this time.

These findings are consistent with the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission’s latest wastewater monitoring survey which suggested that the consumption of methamphetamine increased by a whopping 76 per cent in samples gathered in 2019, increasing from 1,278 kilograms detected to 2,248 kilograms over that time.

However, Queensland’s long-term overdose crisis is not being solely driven by illicit drugs.

No state or territory has suffered a larger relative increase in overdose deaths involving benzodiazepines, a type of drug Penington Institute has previously labelled “Australia’s silent killer”. In the five years between 2014 and 2018, 522 Queenslanders died of overdoses involving benzodiazepines, compared to 114 between 2004 and 2008.

Echoing patterns seen in other states, residents of regional Queensland are more likely to die of overdoses than their counterparts in Brisbane. The rate of unintentional overdose death has been greater in regional Queensland than Greater Brisbane every year since 2011.

In 2018, regional Queensland had a rate of 6.3 deaths per 100,000 people, compared to Brisbane which had a rate of 5.3 deaths per 100,000.

Overall, Australia’s Annual Overdose Report 2020 shows that Queensland is still struggling to come to grips with an overdose crisis that is being driven by several types of drugs, both legal and illicit, and continues to claim the lives of hundreds of people every year.

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

“Every overdose death is preventable. So what does it say when, for ten years running, we’ve had more than 200 avoidable deaths in Queensland?”

“The Queensland Productivity Commission recommended the state government consider decriminalising some types of drugs to reduce the incarceration rate and free up resources that could be better spent on interventions that reduce harms.”

“That the Government has chosen not to consider this recommendation, especially when the most recent National Drug Strategy Household Survey found that, for the first time, the majority of respondents believe we should be allocating more money to increasing education than to law enforcement, is disappointing and a lost opportunity.”

“Australians have seemingly come to accept a certain number of overdose deaths as inevitable or perhaps even tolerable. Deaths from a drug overdose are not inevitable and should never be tolerated.”

“That’s partly down to drug use and overdose being so heavily stigmatised. By releasing this Report, we’re looking to start a better-informed 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 Queensland landmarks like Brisbane Town Hall, Sandgate Town Hall, Kurilpa Bridge, Story Bridge, Victoria Bridge and the Brisbane Botanic Gardens Tropical Dome 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.