ACT News


Naloxone drug overdose treatment program saves lives

A program that helps family and friends bring heroin users back from the brink of fatal overdose has achieved ''overwhelmingly positive'' results, a review has found.

The drug naloxone has been used by paramedics and hospital emergency staff to prevent overdose deaths for decades.

Naloxone reverses the effects of overdose from opioids such as heroin and counteracts the potentially fatal effects on the central nervous and respiratory systems.

The drug has been described as ''remarkably safe'', with little to no side effects or addictive qualities, and it has no effect on someone who has not taken opioids.

The Canberra Alliance for Harm Minimisation and Advocacy and the ACT government, along with other alcohol and drug workers, formally launched a program in early 2012 to train those closest to heroin users, teaching them how to manage overdose and properly use naloxone.

Take-home glass vials of naloxone were then handed out on prescription to 160 Canberrans.


It was launched as the first naloxone availability expansion program in Australia, although similar schemes have since been rolled out across NSW, South Australia, Western Australia and Victoria.

During the past two years, the ACT's pilot program has proved to be very successful, according to an interim report commissioned by ACT Health and released on Thursday.

In all 23 cases where naloxone has been used, it has been successful in reversing the effects of overdose.

The 160 participants in the program were found to be better trained to respond to overdose, and displayed a good knowledge of how to administer naloxone.

The largest concern identified by the report's authors was that ambulances were only called in half of the 23 cases. It noted that more work was being done to teach participants the importance of calling paramedics, even when a victim has been revived.

There were also concerns about the risks of smashing the glass vials, but they have been alleviated by the introduction of pre-loaded syringes.

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher praised the program, saying it was good to see other states introducing similar schemes.

''This program is about saving lives and the 23 successful overdose reversals show it is achieving the desired results,'' she said.

''As a result of this training, 23 people are alive today who may not have been without this program.''

ACT Health agreed to buy the drug for the first 200 participants in the pilot program in late 2011 and early 2012, before it was listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in December 2012.

Once the program reaches 200 participants, users will need to buy it from pharmacies under the PBS.