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Former Digger with PTSD got 32 opioid scripts from 28 doctors

A former soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder got 32 opioid prescriptions from 28 Perth doctors in the months before he died from a drug overdose, an inquest has been told.

Matthew Neil Hardy Tonkin, 24, enlisted in the army on his 19th birthday and embarked on his first tour of Afghanistan three years later in June 2012.

His experience quickly turned into a nightmare when he saw an explosive device blow off the legs off a fellow soldier and lost his best mate, Robert Poate, in an insider attack.

Mr Tonkin injured his hip in October 2012 and was prescribed oxycodone as an analgesic before he was declared unfit for active duty.

He continued to be prescribed oxycodone after he was flown back to Australia and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder when he was referred to a psychiatrist.

An inquest into Mr Tonkin’s death has been told he overdosed on opioids four times when he was living in Queensland in 2013.

His dependence on prescription drugs was recorded on his medial record in December 2013 and he officially separated from the army and returned to Perth.

Matthew Tonkin’s best mate, Robert Poate, was killed in an insider attack in Afghanistan.Matthew Tonkin’s best mate, Robert Poate, was killed in an insider attack in Afghanistan.
Camera IconMatthew Tonkin’s best mate, Robert Poate, was killed in an insider attack in Afghanistan.Picture: Australian Defence Department

Counsel assisting the coroner, Darren Jones, said Mr Tonkin consulted 28 doctors from 20 different medical practices between January and July in 2014.

He got 32 prescriptions for opioids in that time and picked up the drugs from 14 different pharmacies.

Mr Tonkin’s father, David Tonkin, found him unresponsive in his childhood bedroom in on July 3, 2014.

Twenty five different prescription medications were found in Mr Tonkin’s home and a post mortem examination found toxic levels of oxycodone in his blood.

“Despite being identified as an opioid addict and at risk of death from opioid addiction whilst in the army in 2013, Mr Tonkin was able to continue obtaining opioids in WA in 2014,” Mr Jones told the inquest.

“Initial enquiries by GPs in WA with the Prescription Shopper Alert Service failed to identify him as a prescription shopper and addicted to opioids, despite his history of misuse of medication and several overdoses.”

Coroner Barry King is investigating Mr Tonkin’s death in a bid to find out more about how he was able to obtain opioids despite his addiction being identified.

He is also looking into the current status of government initiatives to detect prescription drug addicts and to alert prescribers and pharmacists.

It is alleged Mr Tonkin stole a script pad from the pain management clinic of Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in June 2014 and used it to forge scripts.

The clinic reported him to the Department of Health as a person addicted to drugs and letters were sent to doctors and pharmacists alerting them of Mr Tonkin’s status on July 9 and August 11.

David Tonkin wants more done for former soldiers with PTSD.David Tonkin wants more done for former soldiers with PTSD.
Camera IconDavid Tonkin wants more done for former soldiers with PTSD.Picture: Sharon Smith

Outside court, Mr Tonkin’s father said the situation between young soldiers leaving the defence force and entering everyday life needed “a lot of work”.

“It’s a big black hole between the Australian Defence Force and Veterans’ Affairs,” he said.

“They are able to blame each other for any shortcomings in the system. There is no help with transition to employment or heath problems and it just falls into this great abyss.

“Things are changing slowly, very slowly, but there is so much more work to be done.”

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