Peer administered naloxone
Relative to many other countries, Australia has an admirable track record regarding the implementation of policies that support harm reduction. Since the early 1980’s we have supported both methadone and needle syringe programs. Each of these programs has demonstrated evidence of significantly reducing the harms experienced by both individual drug consumers and the broader community. Despite the advances in drug policy in the last 30 years however, people continue to die in circumstances that may be preventable.
According to the National Coronial Information System, in 2007 there were 266 accidental deaths due to opioid overdose in Australia.
Naloxone is a drug that is used to rapidly reverse the effects of opoids for a temporary period and has been used effectively by paramedics for a number of years in the treatment of overdose. The problem is however that many consumers will not recieve Naloxone.
Forty five percent of heroin consumers participating in the annual Illicit Drug Reporting Survey reported that they had experienced a heroin overdose in their lifetime. Just over half of this sample received Naloxone and nearly a third received absolutely no treatment at all.
It seems important then, that we get Naloxone into the right hands. In the UK and the US naloxone has been made available to trained peers, often themselves heroin consumers who can administer this life saving medication to someone who is experiencing an overdose. Given the Australian experience it may well be time that we start considering the same measures.
Reference: J. Stafford and L. Burns AUSTRALIAN DRUG TRENDS 2009 Findings from the Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS) Australian Drug Trends Series No. 37