Tamworth, Armidale drug overdose deaths sky rocket in past decade

DEADLY MIX: While ice is often making news headlines, opioids are claiming the most lives.
DEADLY MIX: While ice is often making news headlines, opioids are claiming the most lives.

DRUG overdoses have more than tripled in the Tamworth region and doubled in the Armidale area during the past decade.

The Penington Institute overdose report shows 40 people died in the Tamworth region from 2012 to 2016, compared to 13 deaths from 2002 to 2006.

In the Armidale region, 20 people died of a drug-related death in the past five years, compared to 10 deaths over the same period a decade ago.

While ice or methamphetamine related incidents often make the headlines, it’s opioid drugs, which include heroin, codeine, oxycodone and fentanyl, that are claiming the most lives.

Adrian Webber oversees the St Vincent de Paul Society rehabilitation facilities in Armidale and Tamworth.

He said some of the new prescription opioids such as fentanyl – which is “up to 100 times more potent than morphine and many times that of heroin” – were particularly dangerous.

“We’ve seen a lot of deaths in the United States and now we’re seeing a rise in overdoses from these forms of drugs in Australia,” he said.

“When fentanyl is used in combination with other depressant medication, such as pain killers, anti-histamines or alcohol, it can be deadly.” 

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Mr Webber said while every overdose had different contributing factors, a common theme in rural and regional areas was an under-supply of drug and alcohol services.

In the past 12 months, Vinnies has rolled out a number of new services to battle the rising epidemic, including six new “complex beds” at Freehouse in Armidale, a service for single parents, a non-residential day rehabilitation facility in Tamworth and an outreach program that stretches to the Queensland border.

“We’re doing our best to ensure we meet the needs of our community – since the beginning of last year we’ve treated 150 people in the region,” Mr Webber said.

“In future surveys, we hope to see that statistic begin to decline.

“In my line of work, I’m always going to ask for more government funding, particularly for residential and non-residential treatment.

“I’d also like to see some funding to address the stigma of people with drug and alcohol issues. While that’s more of a social issue, it’s still a big concern and one of the biggest barriers to people getting treatment.”

Mr Webber said the increase in the region’s overdoses was reflective of a trend right across regional Australia.

“It does look bad and it’s a significant concern, but it’s certainly not restricted to our region,” he said.

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