Naloxone has been used as a response to opioid overdose by paramedics for decades, but its availability differs drastically between the states in Australia.
A new set of infographics, collated by Burnet Institute PhD student and research assistant Penny Hill, will help to dispel some of that confusion, especially for drug users and carers.
Naloxone works by blocking opioid receptors in the brain, making it a critical tool in response to drug overdoses, including those that involve multiple substances.
A summary of naloxone access across jurisdictions. Faded icons mean new programs or changes are in development. Click here for a larger version.
“It’s really important for people to be aware that if an overdose does include any opioid, it [naloxone] will reverse that part of the overdose. Even if it’s a polydrug overdose, if opioids are involved, naloxone will still help,” Ms Hill said.
Working through each state and territory, the infographics outline who can access naloxone, who carries it, and the training that is available. They also flag where changes or new projects are in development.
“The audience is anyone. I think the information should be out there for people to realise that in different states it looks really different,” Ms Hill said.
The National Naloxone Research Group (NNRG) was set-up by Burnet’s Centre for Research Excellence into Injecting Drug Use (CREIDU) in 2014, when naloxone was identified as priority research area.
The 40-member group brings together state government representatives, service providers and researchers with the aim of expanding naloxone access and awareness in Australia.
Ms Hill said the ease with which she was able to compile information for the infographics is a testament to the group’s collaborative model. She was taking minutes on an NNRG meeting when she had the idea of compiling the information into a more accessible format.
“It wasn’t hard to get this information because we already had the group set up,” Ms Hill said.
The infographics will now be updated after each NNRG meeting.
The first set was prepared in time for International Overdose Awareness Day on 31 August, when new data from the Penington Institute’s annual overdose report revealed that more than 2000 people died from drug overdoses in Australia in 2018, the equivalent of five people each day. More than 1000 of those deaths involved opioids.
Naloxone was made available over the counter in Australia in 2016. That paved the way for more take-home naloxone programs, which involve providing first-aid training to potential overdose witnesses (typically opioid users, and their friends and families), including naloxone administration, and then prescribing and distributing the drug for use in overdose situations.
A Federal Government take-home naloxone pilot has provided AUD$10 million to make the drug accessible in WA, SA and NSW. The infographics provide these details, and also highlight the differences that exist when it comes to Good Samaritan legislation, which is designed to protect people who provide emergency medical assistance from civil liability.
In some states, such legislation offers no protection if a person is intoxicated, but in others, such as Victoria, intoxication is not mentioned by the legislation.
This, Ms Hill suggested, can provide a barrier to peers attempting to render assistance to a person who has overdosed.
Burnet Institute is working on a number of projects involving naloxone, including the SOS initiative, led by Professor Paul Dietze, which trains people who might experience or witness an overdose so they can provide treatment.
The new infographics are available via the CREIDU website. Click here for more information.