‘Overdose kits’ help to save 130 addicts
THE lives of more than 130 drug addicts may have been saved by a groundbreaking new project which allows relatives to rapidly treat a potentially fatal overdose.
Naloxone kits, which temporarily reverse the effects of heroin and methadone overdoses and can be administered by families and partners, have been distributed across Scotland as part of a £1 million government-funded three-year project.
Results of the first year of the project have now been released, and managers of the project say naloxone was used successfully to treat 133 overdoses in Scotland in 2011-12.
Although drugs-related deaths in Scotland hit a new high of 584 in 2011, the kits are believed to have prevented the total from reaching even higher levels.
Stephen Molloy, national co-ordinator of the Scottish Drugs Forum, said: “There were just over 130 reported uses where an individual has reported having used naloxone for the purposes of reversing an opiate-related overdose, either in their own home, a friend’s home or wherever.
“In each case the signs of overdose have been identified, the appropriate dose has been administered and there have also been other basic life-support actions such as phoning for an ambulance.”
There are an estimated 60,000 problem drug users in Scotland, and the Scottish Drugs Forum, which is overseeing the naloxone project, believes at least 15,000 should have access to it at home. So far the project is understood to be significantly under-budget, suggesting there is plenty of scope for a wider roll-out.
Molloy said: “One of the primary aims of the programme is to empower anyone who might witness an opiate-related overdose.
“It does not matter if it’s the mum, dad, brother or sister. It is not about increasing the pressure on them, it’s about empowering the individual.”
Naloxone is injected into a muscle. It temporarily reverses the effects of an overdose from heroin, methadone or another opioid – including some prescription painkillers – allowing time for the emergency services to arrive.
Naloxone is carried by paramedics and is used by them about 2,000 times a year in Scotland. The Scottish Government is the first administration in the world to have funded a home-based project.
It is only effective against opiate-based drugs, with a 100 per cent success rate if used appropriately, according to Molloy, but has no negative side-effects. It is even used on babies born to mothers who have been using drugs.
In 2011-12, the first full year of the project, 2,730 kits were issued in the community, with a further 715 handed out in prisons.
Some were distributed to hostels for the homeless which drug addicts might attend.
They can only be prescribed to heroin users, but 60 kits have been given to families and friends with the user’s permission.
However, anti-drugs charity Scottish Families Affected by Drugs (SFAD) say relatives should be able to access the kits directly.
In a minority of cases, users can administer the drugs themselves, as overdosing can happen over two or three hours. But most of the time they are not capable and rely on friends or relatives.
Christine Duncan, chief executive of SFAD, said: “Often families and friends are not even aware that naloxone is in the house, which is quite distressing.
“We run family support groups across Scotland and lots report that they would like to be more involved, not just with naloxone, but with treatment plans generally.”
Despite this, the group welcomes the new lifesaver’s role for relatives.
“It’s a lot of pressure, but what’s the alternative? Family members are carers, it’s an important role that they take on,” said Duncan.
Molloy said he would like to see the kits made more widely available. “We could do an awful lot more, and hopefully in time that will be seen to happen. It’s still a very new intervention. But my hope is that naloxone becomes more widely available, that there’s full access across the country for individuals at risk, and that access to families and their loved ones who care for people who have substance abuse issues is eased in some way.”
The kits cost just £10 each and can last for three years.
Last Wednesday, the Obama administration drug czar Gil Kerlikowske called for wider distribution of naloxone in the United States.
Roseanna Cunningham, the Scottish Government’s community safety minister, said: “Scotland is leading the way in recovery and developing innovative ways of supporting hard-to-reach groups.
“We have been rolling out a national programme, within communities, health boards and the Scottish Prison Service, to supply naloxone kits and training to those at risk of an opiate overdose.
“Naloxone can and does save lives and offers a second chance of recovery.”
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