Drug overdose deaths in metro Melbourne at 10-year high

Released on 30th August 2022

cohealth says that new Coroner’s Court data showing that 500 Victorians died of drug oversdose in 2021 is a harsh reminder that there are still many barriers that prevent people from accessing drug services and treatment, with drug stigma at the top of the list. 

The overdose report released today shows that despite a small statewide decline from 536 deaths in 2020 to 500 deaths in 2021, the number of people who lost their lives to overdose in metropolitan Melbourne in 2021 reached a 10-year high (399 deaths in metro Melbourne). 

cohealth says that small decreases are positive, but Governments at all levels must do more to reduce the number of lives lost to drugs. 

“One death is too many. Behind these numbers are humans experiencing one of the most highly stigmatised health conditions globally,” said Nicole Bartholomeusz, Chief Executive, cohealth. 

“We need to focus more on harm reduction by improving access to supervised injecting services, increasing distribution of overdose-reversal drug, Naloxone, and helping people get onto opioid replacement therapy,” she said. 

“There needs to be a greater shift to health-based responses to drug use, instead of justice-based responses,” she said. 

“People are dying because the stigma, shame and fear of punishment attached to drug use stops them from seeking help and accessing services.” 

“Drug addiction is a diagnosable and treatable health condition but too often people who use drugs are treated like criminals, and pushed further into the margins of society,” she said. 

“It is very rare in any other area of health to hold the belief that some people deserve help, while others don’t,” said Ms Bartholomeusz. 

cohealth will host several activities to mark International Overdose Awareness Day on 31 August, including a BBQ at The Collingwood Yards at which the community will pay tribute to loved ones lost to overdose, and learn how to prevent and respond to overdose. 

“Overdose affects us all and International Overdose Awareness Day is an opportunity for us to remember those we have lost to overdose over the years,” said Dean Rogut, cohealth Alcohol and Drug Cluster Leader.

“We use this day to educate people about how to respond to an overdose and remind them that anyone can be affected,”  

“It’s important to mark this day for our clients as it helps destigmatise those with a lived and living experience of substance use. This includes the family and friends of those last to overdose who are often grieving in silence due to the impact of stigma.” 

International Overdose Awareness Day activities 

cohealth IOAD BBQ and overdose memorial, Collingwood Yards, 35 Johnston St, Collingwood 

  • Open to the public – A joint BBQ with in partnership with local services including Harm Reduction Victoria, Neighbourhood Justice Centre 

Beyond the Stigma – Laneway Light, Westwood Place, Melbourne, 6-11pm 

  • The public are invited to view the final night of a light projection installation featuring artworks and imagery contributed by 29 people with lived experience of drug dependence 

cohealth Healthworks clinic, 4-12 Buckley St, Footscray 

  • Western Health and cohealth  
  • The community will be invited to honour loved ones lost to overdose by adding their name to the memorial board at cohealth Healthworks 
  • Overdose prevention stall – cohealth and Western Health will host a stall in the Nicholson St, Footscray mall from which they will provide information about overdose-reversal drug, Naloxone, and talk to community members about what to do if someone overdoses.

more information:  Lanie Harris 0418 552 377  lanie.harris@cohealth.org.au 


— Ends — 

More on cohealth: 

cohealth is one of Australia’s largest not-for-profit community health organisation that strives to improve health and wellbeing for all.  cohealth provides universal access to services as well as targeted programs and assertive models to address the health disparities experienced by disadvantaged groups. cohealth offers a broad range of high quality, integrated health and support services, including medical, oral, pharmacy, mental health and drug and alcohol services. 

more information:  Lanie Harris 0418 552 377  lanie.harris@cohealth.org.au 


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