The UK government should take concrete steps to make naloxone more widely available in order to reduce the high rates of fatal opiate drug overdoses, concludes a new review by the UK Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) released on 9 May 2012.
The government should ease restrictions on who can be supplied with naloxone and investigate how peers can be suitably trained to administer it in emergencies, recommends the ACMD.
In line with international research, the ACMD concluded that naloxone is a safe, efficacious drug that effectively reverses the effects of opioid overdoses without any dependence-forming potential. The review has also confirmed that availability of naloxone in the community does not encourage increased heroin use. Naloxone is on the WHO’s model list of essential medicines.
Heroin has contributed to over one thousand deaths in the UK in each of the last ten years, representing between a third and a half of all deaths due to drug poisoning. As of 2011, there were 264,072 opiate users in England.
In its call for wider naloxone provision, the AMCD highlighted the success of Scotland’s naloxone programme. In 2011, Scotland promoted the availability of naloxone to approved services without prescription for use in emergencies.
Although naloxone has been available under UK law since 2005, it remains a prescription-only drug, and is only licensed for use in injectable form. As such, non-medical services and people who use drugs, their families and peers, who may be more frequently present during the occurrence of opiate-related overdoses, are not able to legally hold stocks of naloxone and administer it in emergencies.
Take-home naloxone, given to service users and training carers or peers who can best engage with people who use heroin, is most effective at reversing heroin overdoses, and can result in a reduction in overall drug-related deaths in the UK, says the AMCD.