Fatal heroin overdose project

Fatal heroin overdose project


Prof. Olaf Drummer, Dr Greg Rumbold, Dr Jim Gerastomolous, Mr Tony DeRidder

Funding source

Victorian Law Enforcement Drug Fund

Background information

Heroin overdose is an increasingly serious public health problem in many jurisdictions. In Australia, there has been a six-fold increase in the number of fatal heroin overdoses during the period 1979-1995. Heroin users themselves identify overdose as the heroin-related harm with which they are most concerned. There is a large body of research that has been conducted into fatal overdose using coroner’s records that has documented the circumstances of heroin overdose fatties and described some of the major risk factors for heroin overdose. This research, however, has been conducted in jurisdictions other than Victoria. Indeed, information collection in Victoria of the circumstances surrounding heroin-related death has until recently been very poor. There is clearly a need to improve this information and conduct detailed research into the patterns of fatal heroin overdose in Victoria in order to determine the patterns of, and risk factors for, heroin overdose that apply in the Victorian context.


The aim of this research is to improve information collection around the circumstances of heroin-related deaths. The information will be used to more clearly describe the circumstances of heroin-related death in order to better understand the risk factors for fatal heroin overdose.


The circumstances of death for people who have died after the administration of heroin are being investigated through:

  • detailed toxicological studies conducted at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine;
  • in-depth investigations by police to fully describe the context in which the death took place (including the physical location and the person’s life circumstances); and
  • the preparation of detailed coroner’s briefs on a sub-sample for the purposes of coronial inquiry.


The sub-sample of investigations is currently being undertaken


The project has clearly demonstrated the increase in heroin-related fatalities in Victoria and has been instrumental in highlighting the nature and extent of the problem for the general community.

Contact person

Greg Rumbold, 03 9254 8061, gregr@sna.net.au