You don’t expect to die when you take a painkiller
“Goodness!” says a bloke named Tony Trimingham. He’s taken aback.
The Punch spoke to Tony last week to hear his tragic story. His son Damien – a school prefect, an accomplished athlete – died at just 23.
A heroin epidemic was at its worst in the late 1990s. 713 Australians, the amount of humans you’d find in an average-sized school, overdosed on opiates in 1997. Damien Trimingham was one of them, dead on a hospital stairwell after injecting himself with heroin.
In the past decade, the flood of heroin hitting our streets has receded. The epidemic ended in 2001.
You might be reading this and thinking: “yeah, heroin, it’s a ‘90s drug”. It does kill fewer Australians now.
But Trimingham Senior, who founded an organisation called Family Drug Support after his son’s death, sounded astonished when The Punch brought him up to date with the latest death rates from opiates.
They’ve spiked. 705 Australians overdosed on the drugs accidentally in 2010, a report from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre projects. Nearly as many as the death toll when Damien Trimingham died in ‘97.
That’s up from 500 confirmed deaths in 2008, and 360 the year before that.
The twist is it’s not so much from heroin. Only 3 in 10 deaths were from the stuff. Instead, the spike was likely fuelled by an increase in overdoses on prescription painkillers.
7 in 10 deaths were from drugs like oxycodone and morphine, both legally prescribed by doctors.
Experts told The Punch the stuff is being overprescribed. Once upon a time oxycodone was used mostly for pain related to cancer, but that’s changed. It’s prescription rates have soared 152 per cent between 2002 and 2008 after the Federal Government lifted restrictions on it more than a decade ago.
The Punch understands there’s a thriving black market for oxycodone and similar drugs. It’s being peddled by nans and pops, often with real pain-related medical conditions, who can make a nice profit by getting prescriptions from doctor after doctor and passing it onto a drug dealer.
Yep: Have YOU checked what your gramps have been up to lately?
But in all seriousness, there’s two ways the drug epidemic can be slowed, according to Dr Alex Wodak, who was the head of Drug and Alcohol Services at St Vincents hospital in Sydney for 20 years until this June.
First: there should be a tracking system in place to stop “doctor shopping”. The Federal Government’s working on that.
And there’s another. There are few things we don’t ever really want in our backyards. Nuclear power plants: check. Paedophiles: check x a billion. Methadone clinics: yeah, probably, check.
Dr Wodak says we need more of them because they’d reduce the price of the drugs on the black market. There’d be less demand because there’d be less of a market. And more of the drug-addled on programs that’d help them.
Yeah, if you live in Sydney, it’s a heroin injecting centre debate on a big scale. The same centre which says it’s seeing more prescription opiate patients than heroin patients nowadays.
And sure, some find it hard to feel sorry for people who are on the verge of becoming junkies.
But what’s better: Hundreds dying, hundreds of families in grief?
Or occasional neighbourhood unpleasantness, hopefully out of the way from everyone else. And what’s more unpleasant: a heroin addict, or someone who’s making the effort to get off the stuff.
It’s not pretty. But it’s something we might just have to cop. Because there was a remembrance ceremony for Tony’s son and others who’d died of drugs earlier this week, and well, there are so many like him to remember.
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