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Drug-related deaths fall, but still unacceptably high, says Director-General of Health

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Drug-related deaths in Australia, after increasing from

18 627 in 1969 to a peak of 21 241 in 1974, fell to 20 411 in

1980 - a death rate per hundred thousand population of 140,

compared to 156 in 1974.

Commenting on the estimates, prepared by the Federal

Department of Health from figures compiled by the Australian

Bureau of Statistics, the Federal Director-General of Health,

Dr Gwyn Howells, said today that, while the incidence of

drug-related deaths continued to be a national tragedy, some

comfort could be gained from the downward trend.

Dr Howells said that the estimated number of alcohol-

related deaths had remained almost unchanged, at about 3600,

between 1974 and 1980, although the population aged 15 years

or more had increased by 10 per cent.

'Of note is the continuing fall in the estimated number

of alcohol-related traffic accident deaths', he said.

The number of all road deaths had fallen steadily

since 1970, when a peak of 3868 was reached. In 1980, the

number was 3478.

Dr Howells said the estimated number of alcohol-related

deaths from other causes had increased from 1199 in 1969 to

a peak of 1976 in 1977. In 1980, the number was 1829.


. . . 1 2


'There was no disproportionate increase in the estimated

number of alcohol-related deaths among females during this

period', he said. 'But the estimated number of alcohol- -

related deaths did increase slightly among young adults

compared with older adults - that is 35 years and older'.

The estimated number of deaths associated with tobacco

use had increased gradually from 14 700 in 19.69 to 16 200 in

1980. '

However, Dr Howells pointed out, this represented a

gradual fall in deaths per 100 000 population - from 120

in 1969 to 110 in 1980. ,

'The increase in the number of tobacco-related deaths

has been confined to people over 65 years of age', he


'There has been no apparent increase in the number of

tobacco-related deaths among females compared with males'.

The estimated number of deaths associated with the

use of drugs other than alcohol and tobacco had remained

almost unchanged between 1969, when it was 898, and 1978,

when it was 857. However, the number had fallen both in 1979

and 1980, when it was 673.

Deaths from suicide involving an overdose of drugs had

fallen to 410 in 1980 - the lowest number recorded in the

12-year period. .

The number of deaths involving narcotics and barbiturates

also showed a downwards trend. Deaths involving narcotics had

peaked at 140 in 1978, and fallen to 90 in 1980; deaths

involving barbiturates peaked at 355 in 1979 and had fallen to

280 in 1980.

Dr Howells said the number of drug-related deaths was

one measure only of the drug problem.

/ 3



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The estimates were the best so far compiled, although

possible sources of inaccuracy remained.

'They show clearly that the current number of drug-related

deaths is unacceptably high, representing as they do almost

20 per cent of all deaths'.

Nevertheless, there were encouraging features. .

The average consumption' of alcohol had remained almost

unchanged since 1974; average consumption of tobacco was

falling; the general use of both pharmaceutical drugs and

illegal drugs was not increasing.

'Some credit belongs to the educational activities

undertaken by various organisations around Australia and, in

particular, to activities associated with the National Drug

Education Program, funded by the Federal Department of

Health since 1971', Dr Howells said.

'Drug-related deaths can be prevented only if we

recognise that all drugs - while in many instances having

a beneficial place in society - kill in particularly

unpleasant ways when abused; and, having recognised that,

we cease to abuse them'.

CANBERRA: 26 May 1982