International Overdose Awareness Day and drug policy reforms in Victoria

In the lead up to International Overdose Awareness Day, a day to raise awareness of the global mission to end the overdose crisis, we highlight some of the policy reforms in the state of Victoria to tackle overdose and some of the work still to be done.

In August 2021, new laws commenced enabling community access to naloxone in order to reduce the prevalence of opioid overdose. Naloxone is a medicine to counter the effects of opioids and overdose. According to coronial data, 540 people died from overdose in Victoria in 2018 – an increase of 58% from 2010. A large proportion of drug-related deaths are due to unintentional overdoses.

Since November 2018, the Victorian Government has supported a program to subsidise the cost of naloxone for people who may otherwise be unable to afford it. Since the program’s inception, there have been at least 900 reported uses of naloxone to reverse overdose, and coronial data indicate a slight decline in overdose deaths in Victoria. The new law reforms will help ensure that naloxone is as readily available in the community as possible, positioning Victoria as a national leader in the fight to prevent opioid-related overdoses.

As the then Health Minister stated:

[These reforms] will help to further normalise public perceptions of the provision of naloxone and the response to overdose incidents as matters of public health akin to the use of an ‘epi-pen’ for anaphylaxis or a defibrillator for cardiac arrest.

Another policy reform to tackle overdose has been the introduction of a medically supervised injecting room (MSIR) in the City of Yarra, a safety-first medical approach focussed on harm reduction. The MSIR aims to reduce overdose deaths and harms. There is a substantial body of evidence suggesting that these facilities reduce fatal overdoses. Indeed, since its introduction in June 2018, staff at the MSIR have safely managed more than 4,400 overdoses.

Since 2020, the Victorian Government has been consulting on a second MSIR to be based in the City of Melbourne. The City of Melbourne has the second highest ambulance attendances for heroin overdose after the City of Yarra. However, the Victorian Premier has flagged that a decision on a location for the second MSIR is unlikely to be finalised before the state election in November this year

In order to address overdose harms and deaths, a second MSIR is needed and as soon as possible. We are hopeful that come International Overdose Awareness Day in 2023, plans will be well and truly underway for a second MSIR in the City of Melbourne to reduce overdose deaths and harms.