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e-connect communicates what the Salvos do through social programs and advocacy

    welcome to this months edition of econnect

Working through pain

Kathryn Wright

Shortly before last month’s international annual Overdose Awareness Day (OAD) www.overdoseday.com the Penington Institute released research on how and why Australians are overdosing. OAD, founded by The Salvation Army in 2002, is designed to deliver ‘the message that the tragedy of overdose death is preventable’.

Sadly, the latest research, entitled Australia’s Annual Overdose Report 2018 (see research section below), shows that the ‘number of Australians who die from accidental drug overdose each year continues to rise’ Australia's Annual Overdose Report 2018. The majority of overdose deaths in this country, the report explains (drawing on research data from 2001-2016), are caused by pharmaceutical opioids and benzodiazepines – pills for sleeping and anxiety, and pain management/muscle relaxant. The report captures the fact that an unprecedented 142 people are dying each month through accidental overdoses. The number of people who died from taking drugs almost doubled in the period from 2006 to 2016 www.smh.com.au/national/drug-deaths-in-australia-hit-record-high-at-142-fatalities-a-month

This is why The Salvation Army supports the federal government’s decision earlier this year to require doctors’ prescriptions for codeine. Misuse of prescription drugs is the largest causal factor for overdoses, although the report also notes that ‘the number of deaths involving heroin has increased steadily since 2011’. In a four-year period – from 2012 to 2016 – opioids were determined ‘to be the underlying cause in 5,140 drug-related deaths’; 3,993 of those deaths were ruled to be accidental overdoses.

The reality is that people using opioids will often mix that use with alcohol, further complicating the human body’s capacity to process such substances. Recent research published by The Lancet shows there is no ‘safe’ level of use with alcohol www.thelancet.com. The Salvation Army encourages people to consider the evidence and choose carefully how they treat their bodies.

Regardless of the choices people make, The Salvation Army stands ready to help them. In the midst of the reality of people losing their loved ones to overdoses, two questions present: why do people overdose, and what can we do? Long experience, clinical advice from medical authorities, and a growing body of research, point to the reality that drug use is often a coping mechanism. We need to help people come to grips with the things in life that drive them to ‘use’; the underlying causes.

Essentially, overdoses are the result of people struggling to cope with physical, emotional and spiritual pain. The motivations to use mind-altering substances are strengthened by the physical dependency and the changes in neural pathways that come from the use of substances such as opioids. Overdose represents a failure of our communities to reach out to those people who are battling substance use disorders, or who are in such dire circumstances that they believe that pushing themselves into oblivion is the best way to cope.

Sometimes, however, an OD is just a mistake (especially, for example, when elderly people get muddled with their medication). Sometimes it's a calculated (miscalculated) risk; sometimes it's unintentional (when a person thinks they are taking one substance when it's actually another, when they are buying on the street market, etc.).

What can we do? Professionally, The Salvation Army offers withdrawal and rehabilitation services to aid people in their fight to reclaim their lives. Our new national medication management policy now means that trained Salvation Army staff can access ‘Narcan’ (Naloxone), a drug that temporarily reverses opiod overdose (it is kept in the first aid box alongside epi-pens and Ventalin).

As a nation, we can reduce the harm done to people’s lives by drug use, through education and legislation, and a pragmatic recognition of the medical issues at play –and by choosing not to criminalise and stigmatise people in pain. Personally? We can tell loved ones and people we know who may be struggling with addiction or abusing substances that they are not alone and that there is hope. If you need advice or information about treatment options, please call 13 SALVOS (13 72 58) www.salvationarmy.org.au/en/Get-Assistance/Alcohol--Other-Drugs

Kathryn Wright is the Australia Southern Territorial Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) director.


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