Thursday 18 January 2018

Heroin users get antidote syringe for overdoses

HSE to supply Naloxone free of charge to 600 users, and their families, to halt drug deaths

Health Minister Leo Varadkar.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar.
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

Six hundred heroin and methadone users and their families will be supplied with an antidote to drug overdoses to help stem the numbers of drugs deaths.

From early next year, drug users, along with relatives or carers, will be given pre-filled syringes of Naloxone, which can reverse the effects of an overdose if it's administered in time.

They, along with the drug user, will be trained on how to administer the antidote and how to spot the signs of an overdose. Once administered, the antidote stalls the effects of a drug overdose, allowing time for the victim to get emergency treatment.

The service is to be rolled out on a pilot basis by the Health Service Executive, after the success of a similar project in Wales.

Leo Varadkar, the Minister for Health, confirmed the project at a conference earlier this month, saying the issue of drug-related deaths was of "serious concern" to the Government.

"The latest data available to us indicates that heroin was involved in 60 poisoning deaths in 2011, while the number of poisoning deaths where methadone was implicated was 113," he said.

The HSE has been working on a way to address the deaths and serious illnesses caused by drug use, which continues to be a major problem in the capital and beyond.

An overdose prevention strategy has recommended making Naloxone routinely available for heroin users in Ireland, following its success particularly in the UK.

Figures released by the Health Research Board (HRB) revealed that 607 people died from drugs-related deaths in 2011. Around 365 of those deaths were caused by poisoning as a result of overdosing, mostly involving prescription drugs and alcohol.

There were around 251 deaths from opiates such as heroin and methadone that year.

The HRB said the 113 deaths from methadone poisoning alone - twice the numbers of deaths on the previous year - needed further investigation.

The remaining drugs deaths were caused by accidents, or injury or medical conditions such as liver disease, brought on by drug use.

Tony Duffin, of the Ana Liffey Drug Project in Dublin welcomed the roll out of the Naloxone project, saying his organisation has been lobbying for it for some time. "We want to save lives," he said.

The HSE said it is currently finalising a Naloxone demonstration project to assess and evaluate its suitability and impact.

"Key stakeholders, including patients, carers, family and associated professions are being consulted . . . Locations will be selected according to need and will involve approximately 600 patients initially; focussing on those attending voluntary and statutory addiction services, including in prisons," said a HSE statement.

Sunday Independent

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