latest overdose figures show the need to shift focus

Released on 31st August 2021

The latest figures on drug overdose deaths are further proof of the need for a greater health-based approach to drug use, rather than law enforcement, says community health service cohealth, which provides drug and alcohol support and treatment for people who use drugs and alcohol in Melbourne’s north and west. 

Penington Institute today released its annual Australia’s Overdose Report, which showed that 1,644 Australians died of unintentional overdose in 2019, a small decrease on the previous year’s figures.  Tragically, the state of Victoria saw an increase in unintentional overdoses from 425 people in 2018 to 449 people in 2019. 

“This latest overdose death data is a grim reminder of the terrible toll of overdose in our community and highlights the need for us to continue to provide our health led responses to prevent overdose and save lives,” said Ms Nicole Bartholomeusz, Chief Executive, cohealth. 

“Addiction is a diagnosable health condition. In the same way we invest in more cancer treatment facilities when cancer rates rise, we must invest in more health services that help people who use drugs to stay alive, and stay well,” said Ms Nicole Bartholomeusz, Chief Executive, cohealth. 

Harm reduction is a health-based philosophy which acknowledges that drug use – legal and illegal – exists in the community.  Harm reduction approaches ensure that people who use drugs are connected with strategies and services to reduce the damage associated with their drug use.  

At designated cohealth facilities clients can collect sterile injecting equipment and Naloxone (overdose reversal drug), and also be linked in with on-site withdrawal treatment, GPs, nurses and mental health practitioners, housing support and food packages. 

cohealth’s alcohol and drug services in the CBD, Collingwood, Footscray and Braybrook are embedded within a broader range of primary health, mental health and social supports. This integrated model allows cohealth practitioners to treat a person’s holistic health needs, while reducing the negative health impacts of their drug use. 

In the past year, cohealth’s alcohol and drug teams have delivered: 

  • 2,000 prescriptions for pharmacotherapy treatment (e.g. buprenorphine and methadone) to help people struggling with addiction to regain control of their lives 
  • 400 vouchers for clients to access overdose-reversing drug Naloxone  
  • 750 Naloxone training sessions to enable clients to safely use overdose-reversing drug Naloxone 
  • An estimated 100 overdoses prevented due to cohealth’s Naloxone program. 

“Drug overdose deaths are both tragic and unnecessary.  Instead of a singular focus on controlling the supply of drugs, we need to further shift our attention to caring for the people who are already using them, who are dying every day in their homes and public spaces.” 


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More information: email or call 0499 101 638

More on cohealth: 

cohealth is a Victorian not-for-profit community health organisation that strives to improve health and wellbeing for all. It 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. 

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