FALLING drug overdose death rates in Ballarat must not be taken lightly, a leading substance use researcher warns, amid soaring death rates across the state.
New research shows overdose deaths in regional Victoria have more than doubled the past five years, prompting a cry to a failure in appropriately resourcing interventions from Penington Institute Australia chief John Ryan.
Regional Victoria also has double the rate of overdose deaths in Melbourne. Mr Ryan said Ballarat was not immune to the crisis.
In Ballarat, drug overdose deaths have dropped more than a quarter in the past decade from 33 deaths in the period 2003-07 to 24 between 2013-17, according to Penington Institute Australia's annual overdose report released on Tuesday.
Thirteen people in the Creswick, Daylesford and Ballan region died from an unintentional drug overdose between 2013-17 with insufficient comparison data for a decade earlier.
Further afield in the Grampians, accidental deaths have increased 59 per cent.
While figures were not broken down into drugs involved in the overdoses, Mr Ryan said there was an increasing involvement of heroin use in unintentional deaths in regional Victoria. Opioid misuse from drugs like codeine, heroin, oxycodone and fentanyl were claiming the most lives, according to last year's report.
"While it's really encouraging to see this decrease in unintentional overdose deaths in and around Ballarat, it's still 24 too many," Mr Ryan said.
"And it doesn't mean we can be any less attentive to the harms of drug use, or any less attentive to the needs of the people who use drugs. Few areas have been hit as hard by our overdose crisis as regional Victoria...This points to a massive failure to provide the kind of services and interventions that we know save lives.
"We must treat overdose deaths as preventable. We know what works in saving lives and reducing the harms from overdose deaths. We're just not doing enough of it."
In Bendigo, drug overdose deaths have more than doubled, while in Geelong and Warrnambool deaths have increased about one-third.
Western Victoria was the state's first region to roll out real-time prescription monitoring in October.
Nhill's Margaret and John Milligan have long lobbied the giant pharmaceutical industry for change to prevent other families enduring what drugs had done to theirs.
Their son Simon died eight years ago after a 16-year addiction to painkillers.
Ballarat Community Health and Hepburn Health were both contacted for comment.
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