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COVID-19 and Australia’s threatening Opioid Epidemic

While Australians remain restricted in their homes, substance abuse is increasing at an alarming rate, with those who use opioids both legally prescribed or illegally obtained at high risk during this challenging time.

According to the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission’s 2018 and 2019 wastewater monitoring reports, there is a dramatic rise in synthetic opioid use, in particular fentanyl.


The ABC has reported the ease of purchasing fentanyl and the devastating effects this can have on users. A 2017 report conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that out of the 1,808 drug-induced deaths reported in the previous year, the second most prominent substance involved was opioids.

While it’s vital that physical distancing protocols remain in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19, for many, isolation can trigger anxiety and stress resulting in the escalation of substance abuse.

Canadian Senator and former Chief of the Ottawa Police Service Vernon White argues that while Australia’s law enforcement community has had a successful approach to tackling the supply of illegal drugs into the country, there needs to be a strategy enforced for minimising demand in order to make a serious impact on illicit drugs.

White expresses how the abuse of opioids (both legal and illegal) has been an ongoing issue for decades. Australia’s death rate from opioid consumption has more than doubled in the past 10 years (Gelineau, 2019).

As a result, this can be a significant issue across workplaces, particularly during the current pandemic. It is now more important than ever that employees have a firm alcohol and drug policy in place to ensure minimal risk of injury.

Organisations have the responsibility to promote a safe work environment for all employees, especially during these testing times to ensure workplace risk is at a minimum. With strong workplace policies in place, the right training and education, your workplace can do its part to create a safe and healthy environment.



White, V., 2019. The Opioid Problem In Australia: Connecting The Dots. [online] Available at <> [Accessed 11 May 2020].

Nielsen, S., 2020. By The Double: COVID-19, Opioids, And The Threat Of A Syndemic. [online] Available at <> [Accessed 11 May 2020].

Gelineau, K., 2019. Opioid Crisis Goes Global As Deaths Surge In Australia. [online] AP News. Available at <> [Accessed 11 May 2020].