Perth now overdose capital
Harmaceuticals: Worry trend in painkiller overdoses. Picture: Getty Images

Perth is now the nation's accidental overdose capital, which drug experts blame on a rise in so-called "harmaceuticals", or the abuse of strong painkillers.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data commissioned by Melbourne's Penington Institute shows Perth had the highest rate of fatal accidental overdoses in 2012 - ahead of Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.

Perth's rate of 5.6 overdose deaths per 100,000 was well above the national average of four deaths per 100,000. There were 106 deaths in Perth in 2012 compared with 49 a decade earlier.

Penington Institute acting chief executive Wendy Dodd said it was worrying that Perth was on top of the ladder in Australia for per capita accidental overdosing.

The rise in the past 12 years appeared to be linked to prescription drug abuse, including powerful opioid-based painkillers such as oxycodone.

"Drug overdose is a major cause of accidental death in Australia, especially in Perth," she said.

"The number of accidental fatal overdoses in Perth has more than doubled in the past five years and outside Perth it has more than quadrupled.

"It's pharmaceutical drugs such as oxycodone and benzodiazepines which are contributing to the alarming rise."

Ms Dodd said the State Government needed to scale up its campaign on overdose prevention. It promotes the use of Narcan, a drug which reverses overdoses of oxycodone and heroin.

The Drug and Alcohol Office said this week that the most recent WA opioid fatality data showed an overall increase.

Executive director Neil Guard said anecdotally there also seemed to be an increase in non-fatal overdoses in Perth.

His office, police, ambulance services and hospitals were monitoring the situation closely.

"A significant proportion of these overdoses appears to be related to pharmaceutical opioid use," Mr Guard said.

"A recent Government initiative to prevent harm and fatalities has seen WA join other jurisdictions in training opioid users and their family or friends in overdose prevention and management, including the administration of naloxone."

People die from opioid overdose because it suppresses their breathing. Experts say people should call an ambulance if someone has overdosed and never leave them to "sleep it off".

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The West Australian

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