International Overdose Awareness Day is a global event that aims to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of drug-related death. It’s a time to acknowledge the grief felt by families and friends, remembering those who have died or had a permanent injury as a result of drug overdose.

Youth Projects has long been at the forefront of harm reduction across the community, launching its first Needle Syringe Program in 1990. The program was initially delivered as an in-house exchange coupled with mobile outreach across Broadmeadows, Brunswick and Coburg. This free, confidential service provided clean injecting equipment, condoms, lubricants, and information and referrals wrap around support services.

Throughout the following decades, drug usage in Victoria continued to increase and evolve. In 2016, there were 1,808 drug-induced deaths and Australia and New Zealand’s drug mortality rate was 2.5 times the global average.

In 2017, the Victorian Government funded a proactive overdose response initiative for a select group of AOD agencies to engage users and their networks to educate, inform and provide the necessary tools to reduce fatal overdose. The agencies involved include Youth Projects, Barwon Health, cohealth, Monash Health, North Richmond Community Health, Salvation Army and Star Health.

The Proactive Overdose Response Initiative Group facilitated overdose response training using the opioid-reversal drug naloxone for almost 1,000 people (including 130+ community health workers) in 2019. This resulted in over 500 units of naloxone being distributed and 1 in 3 participants in the 2019 Victorian IDRS survey reported a non-fatal overdose in the previous 12 months. Above all, this initiative has enabled more than 120 known overdose reversals – meaning, more than 120 loved ones and valued members of our community have been saved as a direct result of the initiative.

Last week, the Victorian Coroners Court released the 2019 acute drug toxicity (fatal overdose) data as an attachment to a coronial finding. The data shows a reduction of 24 deaths from the year prior, and the first reduction in fatal overdose since 2010. But, a number of concerning trends contributing to fatal overdoses still remain:

  • 75% of all fatalities involved more than one substance, up from 63.9% in 2010
  • Illicit substance contributions increased with heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and MDMA all contributing to a greater number of fatalities
  • Codeine contributions have increased 24%
  • Paracetamol contributions have increased by almost 50%

“Overdose can affect anybody and one of the messages of this day is that people who overdose are our sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and friends – they are loved and they are missed. By coming together to remember them, we stand together to say that more needs to be done to end overdose in our community,” said Ben Vasiliou, CEO Youth Projects.

Today, on International Overdose Awareness Day we respectfully acknowledge the grief felt by families and friends of those who have died as a result of drug overdose, remembering that every person’s life is valuable and that stigmatising people who use drugs needs to stop.


If you want to get involved, check out a list of official International Overdose Awareness events happening across Victoria today.