Alcohol and other drug related harms and addiction impacts individuals, families and communities. The use of public health responses, in particular, health surveillance can recognise the patterns and determinants of associated harms, enabling us to build evidence-based research that informs the alcohol and drug sector, public policy and the community.

Health surveillance

Health surveillance is 'an ongoing, systematic collection, analysis and interpretation of health-related data essential to the planning, implementation, and evaluation of public health practice' (WHO, 2020) and is an important component of the public health response to disease.

Health surveillance data are used:

  • as an early warning system to identify diseases or conditions;
  • to understand how a disease or condition affects and how;
  • to inform policy and strategies to intervene and minimise the impact or spread of that disease or condition, and
  • to measure the impact of an intervention.

This research theme identifies protective and risk factors for populations, emerging trends and harms.

Our projects include National Ambulance Surveillance System (NASS), which identifies alcohol and drug related harms across Australia (including suicide, self-harm and violence) in ambulance attendances; AODstats – a website that provides alcohol and other drug related statistics for research purposes, governments and NGOs to inform service delivery and policy development; Artificial Intelligence for social impact – funded by Google.org; and drinking cultures.

The National Ambulance Surveillance System

The National Ambulance Surveillance System (NASS), is a globally unique health surveillance system using ambulance electronic patient care records (ePCR). The ePCRs are de‑identified and provided to Turning Point where a team of specially trained researchers scrutinise each record to extract relevant information and create health surveillance data relating to alcohol and other drugs, mental health, and suicide and self-harm.

NASS data is complementary to other health surveillance datasets including hospital and ED records. For example NASS data provide information from paramedics who are often first responders to AOD and self-harm issues, and also help address gaps in our understanding of acute harms where patients aren’t transferred to hospital . NASS data also provide opportunities to examine harms in those who might be missed or underrepresented in population surveys – like the homeless or those under 12 years. Our data is coded specifically for AOD, suicide and self-harm and violence and addressed gaps that other coding systems like the ICD may have in terms of the level of detail we capture. Ambulance data also provides location data which allows us to map specific harms to an area, so policy and interventions can be specifically targeted.

NASS is a partnership with St John’s Ambulance Northern Territory, Queensland Ambulance Service, NSW Ambulance, ACT Ambulance, Ambulance Victoria, St John’s Ambulance Tasmania and St John’s Ambulance Western Australia, and is funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) and the Victorian Department of Health.

The methods for the NASS alcohol and other drug (AOD), suicide, self-harm and mental health surveillance, and violence have been validated and meet WHO surveillance standards.

 

Alcohol and other drugs

A team of specially trained research assistants based at Turning Point code ambulance records, which is analysed to identify changing trends and patterns in AOD use across Australia.

Alcohol and other drug statistics and mapping

Alcohol and other drug stats is an interactive statistics and mapping website capturing information on harms related to alcohol and the use of illicit and pharmaceutical drugs in Victoria.

Google for Social Good - Using Artificial Intelligence (AI)

This project utilises the data coded as part of the National Ambulance Surveillance System to develop machine learning techniques that will enable automated coding to augment the work of human coders.

Risk factors and populations

Sleep

Our Sleep projects investigate the effect of commonly used drugs on sleep, why sleep is important in recovery, and how poor sleep is linked to poor physical and mental health.

Injury and violence

Examines ambulance data to inform patterns and trends of alcohol and other drug misuse, self-harm and mental health for violent incidents.

Suicide and self-harm

Using data for evidence-based interventions targeted at at-risk populations to reduce the rates of suicide.

Veterans wellbeing

Explores the relationships between Australian Defence Force veterans’ social networks, identities and wellbeing following the transition from the military to civilian life.

Drinking cultures

Hospitality cultures study

Addresses the cultures of risky drinking amongst male hospitality students and the hospitality staff that mentor them.

Men's risky drinking study

Investigates factors influencing risky drinking practices among male sports players, rural sports supporters, hospitality workers, and corporate workers.

Alcohol culture change projects

Evaluates Alcohol Culture Change as part of VicHealth’s Alcohol Culture Change Initiative.

Public drunkenness

Explores the experiences of people affected by Victorian State public drunkenness laws to inform the development of public health responses to public drunkenness.