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Families of heroin users to be given overdose antidote

Friday, June 26th, 2009 Families of heroin users to be given overdose antidote

The families of heroin users are to be given access to a drug which can limit the effects of an overdose and save lives as part of a pilot scheme launched this week.

The drug, Naloxone, together with training in how to administer it, will be given to 950 families in 16 areas of the country.

If the scheme proves successful it could be rolled out to quarter of a million families nationwide. Experts believe the move could save hundreds of lives a year.

It follows similar pilot studies in Glasgow and London, which have shown that the drug is effective in saving lives.

“It virtually instantaneously reverses the overdose,” said Professor John Strang, the director of the national addiction centre, at King’s Health Partners in London, one of the new academic health sciences centres. “For many years ambulance crews have had it. This is the logical next step.”

Surveys of families of heroin users revealed that almost a quarter have at some point been present when a relative or partner overdoses. Until now all they could do was call an ambulance and hope that it arrived on time.

Professor Strang’s team asked families if they would like the opportunity to learn to treat relatives themselves. “They virtually bit our hands off with enthusiasm,” he said. “The results were so obvious you can’t believe we haven’t spotted this and introduced it years ago.”

Naloxone is a non-toxic drug that has been on the market for years. As its patent has expired, it is also cheap to produce. The drug would have to be used in massive quantities to be harmful and does not have euphoric side effects.

It works by “knocking all of the opiates off your receptors”, Strang said. It brings people round from unconsciousness rapidly, but the opiates remain in their system and they still need medical attention.

Families will be given kits to enable them to inject Naloxone into muscle, as well as training in when to use the drug.

The scheme is being launched by the National Treatment Agency for Substance Abuse (NTA).

Paul Hayes, chief executive of the agency said: “This pioneering scheme has the potential to save lives as well as recognise the role of family members and carers in supporting their loved ones to overcome the harms of drug misuse.

“These pilots are part of a much wider drugs policy, which includes the need to reduce the harm caused by drug misuse. It is right that we should help families save lives, and offer drug treatment options so that users can overcome addiction.”

No family should be without access to this essential resuscitation training and life-saving antidote,” he added.

However, the scheme is not without its critics and some are claiming that the availability of the drug could encourage users to be reckless in the knowledge that help is at hand in the event of an overdose.

The National Treatment Agency was set up in 2001 to improve the availability, capacity and effectiveness of treatment for drug misuse in England.

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