Death from overdose can happen to anyone

Friday 25 August 2017



International Overdose Awareness Day occurs on 30 August every year. It aims to draw attention to the need to prevent and create awareness about drug overdose by reducing the stigma of drug-related deaths and acknowledging the grief felt by families and friends remembering those who have met with death or permanent injury as a result of a drug overdose. This year’s theme is ‘Time to remember. Time to act’.


Drug overdose can have devastating effects and, according to Bass Coast Health’s (BCH) Pharmacotherapy Nurse Scott Aitken the nature of overdoses locally is changing. “Interestingly, most overdose related deaths these days are caused by prescription medications and quite a few of those are accidental overdoses”, he said.


This can occur when people are prescribed combinations of benzodiazepines and opiate pain medications that are both depressants on the central nervous system. When taken in combination this can result in an overdose.


BCH’s Alcohol & Other Drugs Counsellor Deb Guy is hopeful that this will soon be prevented from happening so often. “In the future an electronic system will be introduced to prevent overprescribing of dangerous medications. This real-time monitoring will mean that people will have less access to harmful drugs at the point of dispensing”. This will make it more difficult for one person to obtain multiple scripts from different sources.


BCH’s Pharmacotherapy program can prevent many accidental overdoses. It also helps people take back some control in their lives. The program caters to people wanting to stop taking heroin or pain-relieving drugs such as morphine, codeine or oxycodone. Clients on these medications are supported by a Pharmacotherapy Nurse, who liaises with the client, their GP and pharmacies. Doses of medication are dispensed regularly and picked up from the pharmacy under supervision. This can prevent accidental overdose, as it prevents confusion that sometimes happens when medication is purchased at a pharmacy and taken home to self-manage.


Mr Aitken says it is also important to get opiate users on safe, reliable and affordable substitution therapy, rather than using illicit opiates, buying someone else’s prescribed opiates or pharmacy shopping for codeine preparations. “All of these can cause short and long term health problems, as well as risking overdose and misadventure if used inappropriately”, he said.


A non-residential withdrawal service is also available for people wanting to withdraw or reduce their use of any substance.

Other safe and confidential drug and alcohol treatment services offered by BCH include counselling services that aim to explore a range of strategies, including harm minimisation and relapse prevention, and a Family Support Program, which provides support to family members or those affected by another person’s drug or alcohol use.


For more information about BCH’s Alcohol and Other Drugs services, please call BCH on 03 5671 3278.