More Australians are taking their own lives with a drug recommended by euthanasia groups, including people aged in their teens, 20s and 30s.
New data from the national coronial information system shows 120 people died by taking Nembutal – dubbed the ‘‘ peaceful pill’ ’ – between July 2000 and December 2012. The number of deaths from the drug reached a high of 24 in 2011, compared with nine in 2001. In 2012, there were 17 deaths. There may be more as the data obtained by Fairfax Media does not include cases before the coroner.
Voluntary euthanasia campaigners say the actual number of Nembutal deaths is even higher, as many deaths are not reported to the coroner and people who use the drug to take their lives take steps to make it look like the death is of natural causes.
The deaths included one person under the age of 20, 11 people in their 20s and 14 people in their 30s.
People aged over 60 made up more than half of the deaths in the same period. There has also been the biggest increase in Nembutal deaths in this age group.
Euthanasia campaigner Philip Nitschke said the figures reflected that the drug was getting easier to obtain and was displacing more violent methods. The fact younger people were accessing the drug should be balanced against ‘‘ the very large number of people who get immense comfort from knowing they have a safety net in place’’ .
Dr Nitschke said he was facing 12 complaints to the Medical Board of Australia over the involvement of his organisation, Exit International , in several deaths over the past decade.
Last week, the Northern Territory Supreme Court found the board acted unlawfully in using emergency powers to suspend Dr Nitschke’s medical licence.
The full case against him will be heard in November 2015.
Dying with Dignity Victoria vice-president Rodney Syme said some of the deaths in younger age brackets could have involved people with incurable diseases who had obtained the drug.
‘‘ Intolerable and unrelievable suffering is not confined by age,’’ he said.
Dr Syme, who has obtained Nembutal for terminally ill patients for more than 20 years, said he once handed the drug to a 30-year-old woman with incurable brain cancer, although the woman never used it and died four years later in palliative care.
In Australia, Nembutal is used by vets to euthanise animals.
Paul Russell, of HOPE, said the data was concerning and something suicide prevention organisations should be heeding.
Suicide Coronial data