More than 500 kits aimed at bringing drug users who overdose back from the brink of death have been supplied in Dundee through a new scheme.
Gowrie Care, part of the Hillcrest group, launched its ODNotMe campaign earlier this year to promote awareness of overdose prevention.
More than 80% of the 500-plus naloxone kits which have been supplied since March have been resupplies, which the charity says demonstrates people are using them in an overdose situation.
Feedback from people who use Gowrie Care’s services is that naloxone does not have the stigma attached to it that it had even a year ago.
Dundee has the highest per-head drug death rate in Scotland.
The city lost 57 people to drugs last year.
Naloxone kits – which come with a syringe and two needles – can reverse 90% of overdoses.
When naloxone is administered to someone who has overdosed on opiates – the class of drugs that includes heroin, methadone and codeine – it pulls the drug out, effectively reversing the effects.
The effectiveness rate on opioid overdoses is “near enough” 100% – and 93% of all drug-related deaths in Dundee last year involved opioids.
In other words, there have been a lot of preventable deaths – a fact not lost on Danny Kelly, team manager at Gowrie Care.
He said: “Our goal should be to stop people from dying.
“I believe naloxone should be in every single first aid kit.”
Part of the campaign involves promoting training on the use of naloxone offered by the team.
The course, which takes no more than about 10 minutes to run through, is free.
Those who complete it are given a naloxone kit to take with them.
The Tele was given a run-through of the scheme and shown how to administer the drug using a real naloxone kit.
We were taught to recognise the signs of overdose and how to respond.
The kits are aimed at anyone who could come into contact with drug users – from families and associates through to care workers.
In particular, long-term drug users in the 35-44 age group – who may believe they are unlikely to be at risk – are being encouraged to come forward.
Danny said: “When you take an opiate such as heroin it affects the opioid receptors in your brain, which tell you to breathe.
“It’s like an eggcup that gets filled with the drug, and if you take too much your brain forgets to breathe – that’s what can kill.
“The naloxone goes in and pulls the drug out.”
Naloxone isn’t perfect – a dose lasts for up to 30 minutes at a time, and more than one dose may be needed in extreme cases.
Each naloxone kit comes with five doses which can be administered every few minutes.
Naloxone won’t work on other drugs such as Valium. But it has no adverse effects on someone who hasn’t taken opiates, so Danny believes it’s best to try.
He said: “If you’re unsure what someone has taken but suspect it could be opiates, give them naloxone.
“If nothing happens you can eliminate that possibility and seek emergency help.”
In March, Gowrie Care and Addaction were given special dispensation to give out the “take-home” kits without prescription.
Danny said “Everything we do – including naloxone training – is about harm reduction.
“We know of people who have given naloxone three or four times in a week – sometimes twice a day.
“We just say to people come in, get a kit, and keep it with you, just in case.”
Value of naloxone to stop overdoses ‘can’t be underestimated’
Harm reduction organisations such as Gowrie Care and Addaction have been able to dispense take-home naloxone kits since early this year.
However, naloxone itself has been used to help reduce drug overdoses in Scotland since 2011.
The programme was introduced after Scottish research found that 56% of drug-related deaths occurred when other people were present at the time
The same studies also found that 77% of people who overdosed had been in drug treatment, in custody or in hospital in the six months before their deaths.
That led to the introduction of the National Naloxone Programme in specialist drug treatment services and in prisons.
Many drug-related deaths happen because of a relapse during recovery – when an individual’s tolerance of opiates has decreased due to a decline in use of the substance.
A total of 816 naloxone kits were prescribed in Tayside in 2017/18.
Dave Barrie, service manager at Addaction Dundee, said that the value of naloxone kits cannot be under- estimated.
He said: “A percentage of our dispensing is a re-issue, meaning that kit has been used and may have potentially avoided a fatal overdose.
“It’s a really effective opiate overdose reversal drug and a very effective tool in the fight against drug deaths.”
He added that those who know drug users should consider training in administering kits before Christmas.
He said: “I would urge everyone to take care at this time of year as it is particularly high risk – and to make sure, if need be, that friends and family have naloxone.”