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Early indicators of trends in opioid overdose deaths

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Author: L. Degenhardt, B.A. Adelstein, S. Darke, A. Hodda

Resource Type: Technical Reports

NDARC Technical Report No. 141 (2002)


Aim: To examine the uti lity of two indicators of opioid overdose in comparison with Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data on opioid -related deaths in NSW, Australia.

Method: Data on NSW Ambulance Service attendances at suspected drug overdoses, and data on deaths in which morphine was detected by the NSW Divisions of Analytical Laboratory/ICPMR (DAL), were compared against ABS cases of opioid overdose. The age and gender distribution of the data sources were compared. Time series analyses were conducted to examine the trends in each data source over time and the relationship between each data source. Finally, the geographic distribution of the data across NSW was compared.

Results: The three data sources were similar in terms of the age distribution of persons recorded on each database. The gender distribution of DAL and ABS cases was very similar, while ambulance calls were more likely to involve females than for the other two data sources. Time series analyses indicated that both DAL and ambulance attendance data significa ntly correlated with ABS data from the same time period, and that they were also able to significantly predict ABS coded opioid overdose deaths for up to 3 months. The geographic areas in which the data were recorded agreed significantly, with all data sources recording the highest rates in two Sydney districts known to contain the largest heroin markets in NSW.

Conclusions: While ABS coded data on opioid overdose deaths have long been used to chart heroin related deaths in Australia, DAL and ambulance data are significant and reliable indicators of heroin use and opioid related deaths, and may also be used to predict usage patterns for up to 3 months. They are more readily and quickly available than ABS data, and such information may be used to make healthcare and policy decisions that need to be made in a timely fashion.

Citation: Degenhardt, L., Adelstein, B.A., Darke, S. and Hodda, A. (2002) Early indicators of trends in opioid overdose deaths, Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre.