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Burnet researcher Trevor King writes in the June edition of Hep Review magazine (p41) about the increasing concerns that fatal overdoses associated with heroin and other opioids such as oxycodone and morphine continue to rise.
King outlines that improved access to treatment services such as methadone and buprenorphine maintenance and provision of safer places to inject are responses that are known to be effective in reducing fatal overdose. Another is the provision of naloxone as part of an overdose management strategy for potential witnesses.
The ACT led the way in 2011 in Australia by launching a program titled - Expanding Naloxone Availability in the ACT (ENAACT). The program was designed to provide comprehensive overdose management training and prescribed supplies of naloxone for use by a trained peer (friend or family member) in the event of an opioid overdose.
In NSW, the Overdose Prevention Education & Naloxone (OPEN) project commenced at Sydney’s Kirketon Road Centre and Langton Centre in July 2012 and remains the only project of this nature in NSW at this time.
This project involves training people who inject opioids and their carers in opioid overdose prevention and management, including the medical prescription and dispensing of naloxone. The acceptability and feasibility of this approach is being formally evaluated. It is hoped that this will lead to its wider implementation, to complement other efforts to reduce overdose-related morbidity and mortality among people who inject drugs.
King states it is very encouraging that the Victorian Government has just announced the intention to ‘assess and implement targeted interventions to widen the use and availability of naloxone … and take steps to encourage prescribing for use by family members, carers or nominated peers…’ This is outlined in - Reducing the Alcohol and Drug Toll: Victoria’s Plan 2013-2017 (p38).
The Centre for Research Excellence into Injecting Drug Use (CREIDU) developed a naloxone distribution policy brief last year. The authors, Professor Paul Dietze (Burnet Institute) and Professot Simon Lenton (National Drug Research Institute) have both provided national leadership on this important policy issue.
In this brief they outline the research evidence and the implications for policy and practice. Click here to view the policy brief ‘Improving responses to opioid overdose through naloxone’.
The ANCD has also been a strong advocate for freeing up the availability of naloxone to potential overdose witnesses (including frontline workers, families and peers).
Hopefully there is a realisation across jurisdictions that the research is in and it is now time for policy action and further evaluation of this safe and cost-effective way to reduce opioid overdose.
CREIDU is funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). Grant Number 1001144. The contents of this document are the sole responsibility of the author and do not reflect the views of NHMRC.