Press Release

Ministers welcome availability of life-saving antidote to heroin-related overdoses aimed at reducing drug-related deaths

Minister for Health, Dr Leo Varadkar and Minister of State with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin both welcomed today’s confirmation by the HSE that naloxone will be made available from tomorrow for prescription and supply to opioid drug users under an initiative aimed at reducing drug-related deaths and near-fatal drug poisonings.

Naloxone is an antidote used to reverse the effects of opioid drugs like heroin, morphine and methadone if someone overdoses. The HSE is currently undertaking a demonstration project to assess and evaluate the suitability and impact of using a prefilled Naloxone injection which is designed for non-medical administration in Ireland. The overall objective of the project is to make naloxone more widely available for opioid drug users.

The project involves 600 opiate users receiving take-home naloxone on prescription. It will also include those recently released from custody who have been identified as at high risk of opioid overdose. These drug users and those close to them have been trained on how to administer naloxone, which comes in a pre-filled syringe, and to recognise the signs of an overdose.

Minister Varadkar said: “This project could make an enormous difference when it comes to reducing drug-related deaths. Research shows that providing increased access to naloxone for people likely to witness an overdose, such as the family, case workers and friends of a drug user, is an effective way of reducing overdose deaths.”

“I want to thank all those involved, including the families of the drug users and the voluntary and statutory addiction services, who have worked together to get this important initiative off the ground.”

Minister Ó Ríordáin commented: “I have no doubt that lives will be saved as a result of this initiative. Every drug-related death is a tragedy for the families and friends of the person involved and has a considerable impact on communities and society as a whole. The provision of naloxone to those most at risk, and to their families, is a real step in the right direction”.

The Naloxone Demonstration Project has been undertaken in response to an action in the National Drugs Strategy aimed at dealing with the rise in drug-related deaths. According to the latest figures available, a total of 350 people died in 2012 as a result of the toxic effects of one or more drugs. 220 of these deaths involved opiates, including heroin and methadone.

ENDS

Further information

Naloxone is an opioid antagonist, which is used to reverse the effects of overdose of opioids, such as heroin, morphine and methadone.

The HSE-led demonstration project is an initial step towards making naloxone more widely available to treat opioid overdose. The project uses a similar methodology to a demonstration project carried out in Wales. The project involves training non-medical staff, such as care workers, family and peers, in the administration of a naloxone injection supplied in a pre-filled syringe. The training of all individuals and groups that may be involved in the delivery of the project is important for its success.

The project will initially operate in Dublin City Centre, Dublin North/South, Limerick, Cork and Waterford. The outcome of the evaluation of the project will inform the approach to making naloxone more widely available in Ireland.