The Wagga region's drug-related deaths have continued to increase over the past 15 years, with 28 people losing their lives to unintentional overdoses between 2015 and 2019.
The Melbourne-based Penington Institute's Annual Overdose report has revealed that a region that includes Wagga, Junee, Temora, Coolamon and Lockhart has seen its overdose deaths rise by 33 per cent since 2005.
Wagga's rate of overdoses per 100,000 people is now 5.8, which is just below that of Sydney at 6.1 and below the 8.0 regional NSW average.
The institute's deputy chief executive, Dr Stephen McNally said regional areas like Wagga had a rise in overdose deaths because demand for drug treatment services was exceeding supply.
"The rate of overdoses has been higher in regional NSW than in Sydney since 2010, so that's a trend that seems to be continuing on and we need to ask, what is going on in regional areas?" Dr McNally said.
"Access to services are not as great as they are in the city, not just in terms of rehab services, which are critical, but also in terms of access to Naloxone, which is the medicine that reverses opioid overdose.
"It can be more challenging to reach out for help in smaller communities due to the stigma around drug use."
Federal Department of Health data last month revealed that the Wagga region was in the top 30 per cent for the rate of legal opioid painkiller prescriptions written out during 2020.
"We do know that 50 per cent of overdoses involve pharmaceutical drugs, so they are a clear factor in what is going on the regions," Dr McNally said.
In other news
The Griffith and Murrumbidgee region saw a 54 per cent increase in fatal overdoses over the past 15 years to a total of 17 incidents between 2015 and 2019, according to the report.
The Tumut and Tumbarumba region increased from one death between 2005 and 2009 to six deaths between 2005 and 2019.
In response to the report, Directions Health, which runs Pathways Murrumbidgee Treatment and Support Service, has encourage community members to talk openly about drug overdose.
"Overdose deaths are preventable. If you or someone you love is affected by prescribed or non-prescribed drug use, today is the perfect time to reach out to a support service in your community," Directions Health stated.
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