Australia

Prescription drug abuse to blame for close to 70 per cent of Australia's drug-related deaths

New data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics prompts concern at the rate of drug-induced deaths.

Australia has recorded its highest number of drug-induced deaths in twenty years. New data by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shows two-thirds of the deaths were a result of prescription drug abuse. 

At the peak of his drug-addiction, Jack Nagle would abuse a cocktail of substances including alcohol, marijuana and ice. 

But he says it was prescription drugs that almost killed him.

"They can be viewed as something that's not a s bad because they are legal or given to you by a doctor at times," Mr Nagle told SBS World News.

Jack Nagle
Prescription drugs almost killed Jack Nagle.
SBS World News

 "The effects can be catastrophic. It's definitely a massive problem and there's a lot of them out there."

Mr Nagle has since turned his life around and now runs his own company, Real Drug Talk, which educates young people about the dangers of drug abuse. 

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has released its annual report on the leading causes of death, which reveals drug-related deaths are at their highest since the late 1990s.

Almost 70 per cent of drug-related deaths in Australia in 2016 were caused by prescription drugs.

Benzodiazepines, prescribed for anxiety, accounted for 37 per cent of drug-induced deaths.

Prescription painkillers, such as oxycodone and morphine, caused 30 per cent.

Top ten causes of death in Australia.
Top ten causes of death in Australia.

Professor Michael Farrell, Director at the National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre, says more needs to be done to address the growing problem.

"The issue for us is there is a massive epidemic in the United States. We must take all actions to ensure that we prevent getting to the type of epidemic that has occurred in the United States."

The ABS data also reveals heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death. But Justine Boland, from the Bureau, says it's expected to be overtaken by dementia.

Michael Farrell
Professor Michael Farrell, Director at the National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre.
SBS World News

"This year we've actually seen it [dementia] become the leading cause [of death] for females in Australia. We don't expect dementia, though, to become the leading cause for quite a few years."

Suicide recorded a slight decrease but remains the leading cause of death for young people.

Almost 3,000 people in Australia took their lives in 2016.

Sarah Coker from national mental health charity SANE Australia, says that number is still unacceptable.

"It is a concern that suicide is the leading cause of death for younger people aged 15-44, " she told SBS World News.

"We certainly think there is still work to do to continue that downward trend."