MYTHS about drug use are masking the risks of overdose from prescription medications and alcohol, the organisers of an awareness day event say.
Despite what many people picture when talking about overdoses, it is not just people using heroin in Melbourne laneways who are affected, Salvation Army prevention practitioner Renato Angelo said.
"There are also people who might potentially be drinking alcohol at home and then swallow a few pain killers," he said.
"We know that mixing substances increases the risk of overdose. People are overdosing on over-the-counter stuff, that doctors have given them for pain.
"It's a bit of a concern when GPs are prescribing pain killers which can be very, very strong - some can be as strong as heroin - and they are not given that awareness."
What Australians are overdosing fatally on (source: Penington Institute):
The Salvation Army and Bendigo Community Health Services are organising an overdose awareness event for Friday to help the public learn about the risks and connect with services.
It will also be a chance to unscramble myths around drug use, including that alcohol and prescription medication is safe.
Mr Angelo often notices just how little people know about the drugs they use.
He runs education sessions for those leaving the prison system and rehab units, who are deemed among the highest risk of overdosing. Many clients know very little about overdose risks and the dangers of mixing drugs.
"I find that quite remarkable," Mr Angelo said.
"You would think they would have this knowledge. They don't. They know how to use them but that is about where it ends."
The Salvation Army has a lot of clients who might not have responded to an overdose as well as they could, Mr Angelo said.
"Unfortunately, it's meant their friend or partner has passed away," he said.
"If we had this education out there and spread more knowledge, we could save more lives. People would not have that guilt that comes with using with a friend who then passes away.
People at Friday's event will be on hand to raise awareness about Naloxone which can be used during heroin overdoses.
"Hopefully we can show people Naloxone, that they can go to a GP for a script, pick it up from the chemist and have it on hand," Mr Angelo said.
A safe space will be set up at the gardens for people to mourn loved ones.
"I guess as a community we are not always aware of things that are happening around us. This is just a big part of people's lives. If you are not in this field you probably wouldn't even notice it," Mr Angelo said.
The event comes as Australia experiences its "very own overdose crisis", Penington Institute director John Ryan said.
"And make no mistake, it's a crisis that is getting worse," he said.
His group's new report, released Tuesday, shows Australia's unintentional overdose rate rose 38 per cent in 10 years.
The rising national toll is being driven by heroin use, stimulants and prescription medications like benzodiazepines, a class of depressants that include Diazepam and Temazepam.
Where people are fatally overdosing (source: Penington Institute):
The escalating problem is not confined to cities, Deputy Peninton Institute CEO Stephen McNally said.
"As recently as the beginning of the decade, Australians in rural and regional areas faced the same risk as (those) living in metro areas," he said.
"Today, the rate of unintentional overdose deaths is significantly higher in rural and regional areas. It's yet another echo of the American opioid crisis, right here in our own backyard."
In Bendigo, the number of people unintentionally overdosing on legal and illicit drugs has risen to 45, a 135 per cent increase in the 10 years to 2017, according to the Penington Institute.
Support services' notion of drug use was being transformed by something else, Mr Ryan said: the rise of "polydrug" use, with more deaths linked to four or more substances than a single drug.
"We're good at treating single-drug overdoses. But when you're introducing multiple other types of drugs into a person's system, the response can be hard to predict," he said.
Before Mr Angelo got clean he overdosed on a mix of of benzodiazepines including Valium, as well as GHB, Seroquel and ice.
"I just didn't have that education around the substances I was using and that's what lead to my overdose," he said.
"I'd been up for five days and my body just couldn't take it. All those substances, on top of each other, led to my overdose and I was just fortunate to be found.
Where people are fatally overdosing in central Victoria (source: Penington Institute):
"I was on life-support at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and I was lucky enough to pull through.
"I'm very grateful that someone responded in the appropriate time. It means I'm alive today. It led me to live a new life, get clean and go to rehab."
The Bendigo Overdose Awareness Day event takes place from 11am to 2pm on Friday, thanks to a partnership between the Salvation Army and Bendigo Community Health Services.
For more information on the Salvation Army's support services, call 5440 8410 or visit the website.
For help if you are going through a tough time, call lifeline on 13 11 14.
Have you signed up to the Bendigo Advertiser's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in central Victoria.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.