Overdose deaths increased 54% in the last five years

Overdose deaths increased 54% in the last five years

Drug overdose deaths increased by 54 percent between 2017 and 2021, according to a new report from the Drug Foundation of New Zealand.

Generic image of drugs.

The report shows that 171 people died from overdoses in 2021, a significant increase from 111 in 2017.

According to the report, the increase is due to the growing number of deaths caused by opioids, alcohol and benzodiazepines.

The report also shows that drug mixing was a major cause of death, with 42 percent of overdose deaths over the past five years involving five or more drugs.

Over-the-counter prescription drugs also played a role in overdose deaths, with a drug listed in the report present in 77 percent of cases.

The executive director of the Drug Foundation, Sarah Helm, said that these numbers are incredibly concerning and that public policy has neglected the problem leading to preventable deaths.

“Each overdose death is tragic and has a huge impact on whānau and communities. The fact that we have seen overdoses increase in the last five years is simply unacceptable,” she said.

“There is so much we could and should be doing to prevent these deaths. The increasing number of people dying from an overdose should set off alarm bells for politicians.”

The report also shows that Māori are disproportionately affected by overdoses and are three times more likely to die from one than from Pākehā.

drug law reform

Helm calls for fundamental reform of our drug laws, saying a health-based approach is key to reducing overdoses.

While acknowledging that these changes are likely to take a while, he suggested some short-term fixes that could come into effect quickly now.

These changes include more funding for naloxone, a type of overdose medication, and the trial of an overdose prevention center where drug users can practice under medical supervision while receiving harm reduction treatment and support services.

“The data shows that opioids are in nearly half of overdose deaths in the last five years, and deaths are on the rise,” Helm said.

“Naloxone is an incredibly effective drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. We want it in the hands of as many people as possible. The Drug Foundation has been trying to better prepare New Zealand for a widespread opioid crisis like we are seeing in other parts of the world.”

The proposal for a drug prevention center trial has also been backed by Auckland Central MP Chlöe Swarbrick and the Green Party, who say it will reduce the harm caused by drug addiction and make the prevention center the city safer.

“When I stood up to represent my community of Central Auckland, I did so with a commitment to face the harsh and complicated realities of the problems that come to our neighborhoods, many of which do not originate in our neighbourhoods,” he said earlier this year. .

“That means implementing practical, thoroughly researched solutions like this Overdose Prevention Center.”

Helm said the Drug Foundation is working to acquire injectable naloxone and the Nyxoid nasal spray version.

Restrictions surrounding injectable naloxone have also been relaxed following a request from the Drug Foundation.

“Based on our legal advice, the changes mean that organizations like ours will now be able to distribute injectable naloxone, so we are taking steps to acquire it,” says Helm.

“This week, we also submitted a funding request to Pharmac for the nasal spray form of naloxone, Nyxoid, which is easier to use and therefore preferred by people who use drugs, their loved ones and first responders. like the police.”

“Currently, Nyxoid is $92 for a box of two. We decided to take matters into our own hands because we couldn’t wait any longer to bring this to light.”

The Drug Foundation hopes these changes will help reduce the number of people who overdose and reduce harm among vulnerable communities, especially those experiencing homelessness.

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