AMBULANCES are called to more cases of alcohol and drug abuse in the Latrobe Valley than in any other Victorian region, per head of population.
Data in a report released by alcohol and drug centre Turning Point showed Valley ambulances were called to 561 incidents in 2011/12 where alcohol and drug-related harm had occurred.
Greater Geelong recorded 1334 call-outs and its population is about 220,000 compared with Latrobe’s estimated 75,000 residents.
The Trends in Alcohol and Drug Related Ambulance Attendances in Victoria report was undertaken in conjunction with Ambulance Victoria and, for the first time, included regional data.
In almost all of the statistics Latrobe was second only to Geelong and had a higher rate of ambulance call-outs than other major regions with larger populations, including Ballarat and Greater Bendigo.
Alcohol-related attendances for the 12-month period totalled 190 and Latrobe topped the list, other than Geelong, in areas of all analgesic-related call-outs as well as anti-psychotic, antidepressant, cannabis, benzodiazepine and all amphetamine related attendances, including crystal methamphetamine, otherwise known as ice.
Report author Belinda Doyle told The Express the data highlighted the “real need for awareness of the risks of both legal and illicit drugs” and pointed out rates of harm were higher for legally-available pharmaceutical drugs – and alcohol – than they were for illegal substances.
Latrobe Valley ambulances attended 371 alcohol related call-outs in 2011/12 and hundreds more for harm associated with legal drugs.
“Often people are not necessarily aware of the risks of legal drugs – in fact, they think there is no risk because they have been prescribed by a doctor or are available in a pharmacy.
“But rates of use of anti-psychotics, anticonvulsant and high level painkillers such as morphine are much higher in regional Victoria and that’s a significant concern,” Ms Doyle said.
She said people needed to have medical conditions treated appropriately and should not combine many of those substances with alcohol.
Local paramedic Tony David told The Express alcohol was a “huge issue” for the Valley’s ambulance officers, taking up “a lot of our time and resources”.
“Especially on a weekend in the younger population, this can be overwhelming,” he said.
“We also have a big issue with drugs, mainly prescription medication but illicit drugs are also an issue.”