Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Overdose Awareness Day



  • Sally Finn (founder of Overdose Awareness Day)
  • Janet Cribbes (Mayor City of Port Phillip)
  • Judith Jackson (Aboriginal elder and mother of a son who overdosed)
  • Michael Danby (Member for Melbourne Ports)

I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land we are meeting on, the people of the Kulin nation.

Thank you Sally for inviting me to be here today.

Of course it was Sally, who founded this day in 2001 to remember those who have died from overdose and also those who have survived but who often suffer catastrophic and permanent damage.

Sally’s experience at the Salvation Army’s needle and syringe exchange, provides incredible insight into the complexity of the issue.

Her revelations that some drug takers repeatedly overdose; that a significant proportion of fatal overdoses are caused by alcohol; that drug takers can’t be stereotyped make us pause and think.

Just as we are shocked by the toll of accidental, heroin-related, fatal overdoses – 10,000 over the last decade.

And this doesn’t include people who have died from other drugs such as amphetamines, cocaine, alcohol or prescribed drugs.

When it comes to drug overdose age is no barrier – children as young as 14 die from accidental overdose and so do older Australians.

Behind these statistics are thousands of individual stories.

The stories of families whose lives are changed forever by the sudden, shocking death of someone they love.

Grieving parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters asking themselves why they didn’t see it coming – why they couldn’t stop it happening.

Seeing ‘it’ coming and doing everything we can to stop ‘it’ happening underpin the Australian Government’s strategy to tackle drug overdose.

In my department we run the National Illicit Drug Strategy Strengthening Families Program.

This is an early intervention, family focussed program specifically directed towards family support.

It takes a ‘whole of family’ approach recognising that when one family member has substance abuse problems, it can have a disastrous flow-on effect on the rest of the family.

We help families with parent education, counselling and advice and most of all by giving them a family support worker who they can turn to when things get tough.

I can tell you about one case where the program helped a single father of two young children with a history of drug abuse get his life back on track.

He was referred to the program by Child Protection once he had stabilised sufficiently to have custody of the children.

The project worker gave the family the practical help they needed – arranging child care for the younger child, uniforms and books for the child at school.

She spoke to the school principal and teachers about the family’s circumstances. She helped with budgeting, helped them find a house to live in and introduced them to the local playgroup.

As well, she helped the family re-establish its fractured relationships – encouraging the father to bond with his younger child and helping his older child understand her mother’s absence because of continuing drug abuse.

Quite simply, she was there when they needed someone to lean on.

The program gave the same sort of support to another woman, as part of her parole conditions. She had a long history of imprisonment and drug abuse but this was the first time she had been given any support when it came to building a new life outside jail.

This time when she was released, someone was there to give her help with everyday demands like accommodation and transport as well as crucial moral support. The family support worker became the only real ‘family’ that she had ever had.

This is the kind of practical, on the ground help that’s critical to helping people get back on track.

We are also targeting support to families who get swept up in the chaos of another family member’s drug abuse.

This includes extending funding for Strengthening and Supporting Families providers to help children affected by their parents’ drug abuse and adolescents who are abusing drugs and whose drug abuse is affecting their siblings.

Again we are concentrating on early intervention, education and counselling support services.

We are also tailoring programs to help grandparents who find themselves raising grandchildren frequently because the children’s parents are abusing drugs.

A few weeks ago in Adelaide, I met some wonderful grandparents who are doing just this.

Across Government, there are a range of other programs where we are working with people who are using drugs and their families.

We fund and support many non-government organisations providing essential, on the ground alcohol and drug treatment services across the country.

In many ways, NGOs are the bedrock of our treatment and support services. The Government recognises their dedication and the contribution they make in counselling, detoxification and rehabilitation just to name some of the services you provide.

We are also funding the expansion of treatment services for the disturbing number of people using amphetamines.

Of course, while Australians continue to die from accidental overdose, we will need to continually evaluate and improve our response and the services we provide.

I know many of you have endured terrible personal loss through an overdose.

Your presence here today, demonstrates your determination to make sure that something positive flows from each individual tragedy.

So that families get the help they need to deal with drug abuse.

So that our children grow up strong and resilient and able to resist the temptation of substance abuse.

So that people with drug problems are given every chance to kick the habit and live long and healthy lives.

Overdose Awareness Day is an important element in the campaign that we are waging – as a Government, as parents, as a community – to stop these senseless deaths.

I congratulate you all on your hard work in putting together this important event and your ongoing dedication and commitment.

Thank you