Gold Coast drug deaths up during covid

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While drug overdose and poisoning deaths decreased overall during covid, the Gold Coast went the other way.

Drug and poison related deaths in the Gold Coast increased during the covid epidemic, in contrast to the national average and more in line with trends in the USA.

Researchers found that before the pandemic, drugs and poison-related deaths accounted for around 10% of the cases admitted to the Gold Coast regional coroner, but during the pandemic this jumped to 14%.  

In the two years prior to the pandemic, 83 people died due to drugs or poison, and two years into the pandemic this had risen to 129.  

“This is divergent from preliminary data at a national level, suggesting a possible variable impact of covid-19 in regional areas of Australia which has implications for future funding, policy development and enhancement of service delivery” the authors said. 

The researchers found no apparent changes in the classes of drugs involved in these deaths – which were mainly methamphetamine, heroin, benzodiazepines and antidepressants. Nor were there changes in the average age, gender, location or manner of death in those who died before or during the pandemic.  

While the pandemic was expected to influence the rates of drug and poisoning deaths, the impact varied widely. In North America, drug overdose deaths increased by between 2% and 60% in the US and 58% in Canada. But preliminary Australian data instead found “significant decreases” between the periods July to August 2019 (476 deaths) and the same period in 2020 (405 deaths), albeit with an increase in between those periods (489 deaths in April to June 2020). 

The authors speculated that the difference between Gold Coast and national figures could be due to lower covid numbers in Queensland compared to other states, which meant less strain on health services so prescriptions could be monitored and emergency treatment sought, and lower impact on illicit drug trafficking generally and availability at social gatherings.  

Drugs could have continued to come in via sea, circumventing air transport restrictions, and interstate travel still happened because of strong connections to the nearby large NSW regional centre of Tweed Heads, the authors said. 

Other regions like Western Sydney in New South Wales also experienced an increase in drug and poison related deaths, but local comparisons around the country were difficult due to limited mortality data, the authors said. 

“However, our study provides evidence that regional drug-related deaths may not mirror national trends during the covid-19 pandemic.” 

Forensic Science, Medicine and Pathology 2022, online 18 November 

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