Mon, Sep 09, 2019 - Page 7 News List

Opioid crisis goes global as deaths surge in Australia

Canberra says it is now taking the problem seriously as calls go out to heed the warnings provided in the US

By Kristen Gelineau  /  AP, BLACK RIVER, Australia

Matthew soon discovered how easy it was to get whatever prescriptions he wanted. He forged his doctor’s signature. He told one doctor he had knocked a bottle of pills into the toilet and needed more.

In August 2013, another doctor prescribed him more oxycodone after Matthew said he was suffering from PTSD and hip pain.

A few weeks later, Matthew had his first oxycodone overdose. A few months after that, he was discharged from the army.

One doctor called a hotline for medical professionals to report Matthew’s apparent misuse of prescription drugs, but when Matthew moved back to Perth to live with David, doctors there had no way of knowing his drug use had been flagged in Queensland.

He hopped around clinics collecting prescriptions for opioids. The doctors were largely oblivious to what he was doing because Australia has no national, real-time prescription tracking system.

David begged Matthew’s doctors and pharmacists to stop giving him OxyContin. Matthew just went to other doctors.

At an ANZAC Day gathering to honor military personnel on April 25, 2014, two of Matthew’s friends had to hold him upright.

Back at home after the service, David told Matthew to hand over his pills. Matthew shoved David across the kitchen into the cupboard. Then he pinned his father to the floor and began to choke him. David thought he was going to die.

Matthew eventually let go and both men went to the hospital for treatment. Two days later, Matthew called his father. “Do you still love me, Dad?” he asked.

And of course, he did. So David kept trying to save him, right up until July 3, 2014, when he returned home from a walk and realized Matthew had not come out of his room all morning.

The night before, Matthew had been sick. David had cleaned the vomit off his son’s bedroom floor and changed his sheets. Matthew took a shower, thanked his father and climbed into bed.

David walked into his son’s room. “Time to get up, mate.”

There was no answer.

David placed a hand on Matthew. His body was warm, but he had no pulse.

David called for an ambulance and started CPR. As he pumped his son’s chest, the dispatcher counted out the beats.

One. Two. Three. Four.

Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

Five. Six. Seven. Eight.

Nothing.

From her home in rural northwest Tasmania, 51-year-old Carmall Casey seethes over a system she says pushed her and so many others into addiction. It is a system that has made opioids the cheap and easy alternative for Australians, particularly poor people.

“I became an addict without knowing,” Casey says.

Here in Tasmania, there are echoes of American Appalachia — in the rural towns, the poverty and the cascade of lives torn apart by pills that promised to take away the pain, but in the end created more.

This is Australia’s poorest state, and like Appalachia, it is the country’s epicenter for opioids. Tasmania has the nation’s highest rate of opioid packs sold per person — 2.7 each. One region has the highest number of government-subsidized opioid prescriptions in Australia: more than 110,000 for every 100,000 people.

Ten years ago, while working as a dairy farmer, Casey jumped off a truck and felt her knees give way. An operation provided temporary relief, but the pain came back. She was told she had osteoarthritis.

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