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When Knowledge and Experience Do Not Help: A Study of Nonfatal Drug Overdoses

Najman, Jake M. PhD, FASSA; McIlwraith, Fairlie PhD; Kemp, Robert; Smirnov, Andrew PhD

doi: 10.1097/ADM.0000000000000305
Original Research

With recent increases in overdose deaths in Australia, there is renewed interest in understanding the factors that contribute to overdose. We examine the experiences of persons who report a nonfatal drug overdose. Fifty people who inject drugs (PWID) and who had accidently overdosed in the past 12 months were recruited and interviewed at 1 of 4 Needle and Syringe Program sites during September and October 2013.

Participants were typically male, middle-aged, with long injecting histories. Half of the participants reported mainly injecting pharmaceutical opioids. Most overdoses occurred at home with others present. An ambulance was called for only 38% of cases and 26% were admitted to a hospital emergency department. Police were seldom involved, and there were no complaints about the involvement of police at the time of the overdose.

Participants commonly had a history of overdosing, and most were on prescription medications for physical and/or mental health problems. Poly drug use was common for those reporting an accidental overdose. Benzodiazepines (eg, Xanax or Valium) were implicated in just over half of the overdoses.

Most of those reporting a recent overdose also report a past history of previous overdoses. Most of those reporting a previous overdose continue to use substances in ways they are aware contribute to the risk of an overdose.

Queensland Alcohol and Drug Research and Education Centre (QADREC), School of Public Health, University of Queensland (JMN, FM, AS); and Communicable Diseases Unit, Chief Health Officer Branch, Health Services and Clinical Innovation Division, Department of Health, Queensland Government, Herston, Queensland, Australia (RK).

Send correspondence and reprint requests to Emeritus Professor Jake M. Najman, PhD, FASSA, Schools of Public Health and Social Science, Queensland Alcohol and Drug Research and Education Centre (QADREC), Level 3 Public Health Building, Herston campus, The University of Queensland, QLD 4006, Australia. E-mail: j.najman@uq.edu.au

Received 7 December, 2016

Accepted 3 February, 2017

Funding: This work was supported by the National Drug Strategy Law Enforcement Funding (NDSLEFC) Overdose Information Network (ODIN) under grant 2013000212.

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

© 2017 American Society of Addiction Medicine