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Legal drugs are overdosers' choice By Carol Nader April 23, 2004
Legal prescription drugs are more of a factor in overdoses than their illicit counterparts.
Ambulance call-out figures to be presented to an international drugs conference show that emergency treatment for non-fatal overdoses has jumped in the past few years.
Overdoses caused by abuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs are far more numerous than those from illicit drugs.
The study, by Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre in Melbourne, found there were more than 11,000 "ambulance attendances" for non-fatal overdoses of prescription or over-the-counter drugs in the city in the two years to last September.
This was almost 2500 more than in the previous two years.
There more than 1530 ambulance call-outs to overdoses from illicit drugs, 1400 to heroin overdoses and 6035 to alcohol-related incidents.
Women made up almost 60 per cent of legal drug overdosers, but men were more likely to overdose on other substances, including heroin.
The average age of those who overdosed on legal drugs was 33, for illicit drugs, 27, and for "alcohol-related harm", 38.
Turning Point's senior research fellow, Paul Dietze, said the most common medications people overdosed on were tranquillisers, paracetamol, anti-depressants, codeine, morphine and anti-psychotic drugs.
"We suspect that many of these are attempted suicide, and we know attempted suicide is more prevalent among females than males; whereas complete suicide is much more prevalent among males," he said.
"Younger people are taking over-the-counter drugs, whereas slightly older people are taking prescription drugs in overdoses."
The manager of clinical standards for Melbourne's Metropolitan Ambulance Service, Bill Barger, said some overdoses were accidental. "People misread labels or take a medication that's not prescribed for them. There's oversight, where people forget they've taken their tablets and take some more, especially with elderly folk. Children get access to them, because many pills look like lollies.
"Then there's those people who abuse the tablets against the prescription knowingly."