ALCOHOL and prescription drug abuse resulted in more than 14,000 ambulance call-outs for overdoses in Melbourne last year, a new report said.
Also, the city's use of crystal methamphetamine (ice) is sky-rocketing, with metropolitan paramedics responding to 282 calls for people on the drug in 2010-2011, compared to 136 the previous year.
Ambulance Victoria figures released today show alcohol remains the city's single biggest troublemaking drug, with 6946 call-outs for suspected overdoses in 2010-11, up 12 per cent from 6187 in 2009-10.
Benzodiazepines, commonly prescribed for sleeping and anxiety issues, were the second greatest cause, prompting 3135 emergency calls throughout Melbourne.
The statistics, released as part of Eastern Health's Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre report, show that while call-outs for illegal drugs such as ecstasy and cocaine have dropped, legal drugs - particularly prescription medication - are causing harm at an alarming rate.
Turning Point researcher Belinda Lloyd said the risky use of prescription drugs demanded notice.
"While much attention is paid to illicit substances, we should also be mindful of the potential health problems that excessive consumption of prescription medication can cause," Dr Lloyd said.
Ambulance Victoria CEO Greg Sassella said non-fatal drug overdoses made up about 10 per cent of paramedics' total workload, with about 25,000 call-outs a year.
Overdose cases strained the already stressed ambulance resources, he said, as intoxicated patients were often unpredictable, and many - particularly those affected by alcohol mixed with other drugs - could become aggressive towards paramedics.
Turning Point's director, Professor Dan Lubman, said drug abuse was prevalent across all age groups, with the figures representing only a tiny snapshot of the community's woes.
"Of the amount of people putting themselves in harm's way, only a small proportion of those will actually (involve an ambulance), so it's actually an indicator of a much bigger community population problem," he said.
The report will be used to focus future drug awareness campaigns, with Prof Lubman saying there is a need to combat an attitude in the community that tolerates, and even encourages, getting wasted.
"We're living more and more in a culture where intoxication is socially acceptable, and actually embraced and sought after," he said.
Mr Sassella said people should never hesitate to call 000 in a suspected overdose.
"Any delay in calling an ambulance for any drug overdose can cost lives. Our role is to save lives, not make judgments," he said.
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