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harm reduction

Pilot scheme will see people at risk of opioid overdose given relief medication they can take at home

Naloxone temporarily reverses the effects of opioids, allowing a person to get medical help.

DRUG USERS WHO are at risk of opioid overdose will be eligible to get free medication that temporarily reverses the effects of opioids while they wait for medical assistance.

The new pilot programme is a collaboration between the HSE and St James’s Hospital. It is hoped the programme will save lives and promote harm reduction among drug users.

Patients who attend the St James’s emergency department and have experienced, or are at risk of experiencing, an opioid overdose, will be provided with a kit containing the medication naloxone, which temporarily reverses the effects of opioids, providing a lifeline while awaiting medical assistance.

The kit, dubbed Nalox-Home, also contains information on an overdose awareness for patients after they leave the emergency department or are admitted to hospital as an inpatient.

Speaking at a webinar organised for International Overdose Awareness Day, Professor Eamon Keenan, the HSE’s national lead in addiction services, said: “By removing barriers to naloxone access, Nalox-Home offers hope through overdose awareness interventions and take-home naloxone for patients with a history of opioid use, as well as reducing stigma, supporting harm reduction and ultimately it will save lives.”

Hildegarde Naughton, the Minister for Public Health, Wellbeing and the National Drugs, said: “International Overdose Awareness Day gives us the opportunity to remember those who have lost their lives through drug overdose, and highlight actions we can take to improve our responses to this critical and pressing issue.

“Developing integrated care pathways for high-risk drug users in order to prevent drug overdose deaths is a strategic priority for the National Drugs Strategy.

“I am also committed to enhancing access to and delivery of drug services in the community, as this is also a preventative factor for drug overdose. I want to convey my support and solidarity with families who have been impacted by drug overdose.

“As a society, we need to strengthen our resolve to reduce the harmful impacts of illicit drugs. I look forward to the report and recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly on Drugs Use in this regard.”

Jess Sears, Inclusion Health Clinical Nurse Specialist at St James’s Hospital added: “This pilot has the potential to improve the relationship between hospital staff and the patients we treat, which in turn may result in them returning for follow up care and improving their overall health outcomes.

“We wouldn’t hesitate to provide an EpiPen to someone with a severe allergy or a glucagon injection to a diabetic at risk of severe hypoglycaemia. We should follow the same approach for opioid users by training their family and friends on how to identify an emergency and respond with Naloxone, a potentially lifesaving treatment.”

In 2020, Ireland experienced 409 poisoning deaths. Opioids are implicated in seven out of 10 poisoning deaths.

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