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

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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.

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