‘Alarming’ rise in child intentional overdoses; young people dying waiting for help

Kids as young as five are deliberately overdosing on legal drugs, according to Australian research.

The number of young people intentionally overdosing on drugs like paracetamol has doubled in a decade, which researchers say signals growing distress in young people.

The study by the University of Sydney analysed a dataset of the calls made to Australian poisons information centres between 2006 and 2016.

Researchers found more than 33,500 self-poisoning incidents of people aged five to 19 - with a 98 per cent increase over this time.

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Lead author and pharmacy lecturer Dr Rose Cairns said this was “alarming and sad”.

“It highlights that we need to do more and try to find someway to stop this happening,” she said.

Females were three times more likely to intentionally overdose than males, with older adolescents outnumbering children in rates of incidents.

The most commonly used substances reflect widely available drugs like household products, over-the-counter medicines like paracetamol and substances commonly prescribed to young people - like antidepressants.

“We also looked at use of psychotropic medications in children and adolescents, and saw large increases, particularly with antidepressants,” said Dr Cairns.

Psychotropics are used to treat a range of mental health issues and behaviour problems.

Overdosing is the most common form of self-harm in Australian, accounting for 80 percent of cases.

Young people dying while waiting for help

Professor Patrick McGorry, Executive Director of Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health,said the research reflects a wider pattern of rising mental ill health in young people.

“Something terrible is happening to mental health in young people,” he said.

He said youth mental health services like Headspace are strained and people are dying while on waiting lists.

“The problem is we haven't responded to the scale - it’s too little too late - we have to take it more seriously,” he said.

If you would like to talk to someone about your mental health, here are some people ready for your call:

• SANE Australia Helpline 1800 18 SANE (7263) www.sane.org

• beyondblue support service line 1300 22 46 36

• Lifeline 13 11 14 www.lifeline.org.au

• MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78 www.mensline.org.au

Young people and self harm