Five potentially fatal heroin overdoses reversed by drug that is being rolled out across the country

Dr Ann Eustace, author of report on the use of Naloxone; Drugs Minister Catherine Byrne; HSE's John Hennessy. Pic: Photocall

Five potentially fatal heroin overdoses were reversed last year when trained staff administered a drug which is now being rolled out across the country.

Naloxone, which reverses the effects of opioid overdose within minutes, was used in four different locations across four months last year.

Since then, it is understood at least another three potentially fatal overdoses have been reversed thanks to the drug, administered in the form of a Prenoxad injection.

According to a report into the project, published by the HSE yesterday, four of the Naloxone administrations were administered by frontline workers and one was administered peer to peer. In all five cases, it was men who had overdosed and all five were people other than those to whom the product had been prescribed, effectively meaning the overdose victims were in the right place at the right time to receive treatment.

According to the HSE report on the Evaluation of the HSE Naloxone Demonstration Project, prepared by Ann Clarke and Anne Eustace, in two instances more than one dose of Naloxone was administered from the five-dose syringe, as “this was judged necessary during the wait for the ambulance to arrive and deemed to work well”. In cases of overdose, consent to have the drug administered was implied.

A total of 95 prescriptions of Naloxone were issued during the evaluation period from June to October last year, with two-thirds issued in Dublin and the remaining 33% issued in Limerick. None were issued in the other two evaluation locations, Cork and Waterford.

Five potentially fatal heroin overdoses reversed by drug that is being rolled out across the country

A total of six GPs were involved in the medical assessment, with the product also located with different service providers such as Merchants Quay in Dublin. Four of the administrations were on the premises of service providers or within the immediate surrounding area.

The budget for the evaluation period was €62,500 but HSE chief pharmacist Denis O’Driscoll, who oversaw the project, said it could be rolled out nationally for approximately €200,000.

So far, more than 600 people have been trained in how to administer the treatment and Mr O’Driscoll said the training programme could be completed by the last quarter of 2017.

The project was launched after figures showed that Ireland has one of the highest rates of drug overdose in Europe and Mr O’Driscoll said while Naloxone was an emergency treatment, it did have a role to play in bringing people into drug treatment and detox following a ‘near-death experience’.

“We have to take a practical stance that people will use drugs,” he said, adding it was part of a harm reduction package that could also include needle exchange and injecting rooms.

As for fears that the wider availability of Naloxone could result in riskier behaviour among drug users, Mr O’Driscoll said studies elsewhere showed this was not the case.

He also said that training and provision of Naloxone had since been expanded to other locations such as Clonmel, Galway, Carlow-Kilkenny and Louth-Meath, with nearly 500 products now issued.

Full report: www.hse.ie/eng/services/publications/SocialInclusion/addiction/Naloxonedemoproject.pdf


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