Drug trial praised for saving more than 50 Canberrans from overdoses
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Drug trial praised for saving more than 50 Canberrans from overdoses

More than 50 Canberrans have been saved from fatal heroin and opioid overdoses thanks to an Australia-first trial that has equipped users with take-home naloxone kits.

Since 2011 more than 200 drug users have been supplied with the harmless overdose-reversal drug and trained to administer it in life-threatening situations.

Sione Crawford and Carrie Fowlie have campaigned for the availabilty of naloxone for use in drug overdoses.

Sione Crawford and Carrie Fowlie have campaigned for the availabilty of naloxone for use in drug overdoses. Credit:Rohan Thomson

The trial has been dubbed a "trailblazing success" by industry experts and advocates with the drug used to prevent 57 overdoses.

For Sione Crawford, manager of the Canberra Alliance for Harm Minimisation and Advocacy, the trial undoubtedly saved the life of a friend who overdosed after relapsing.

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"I was able to make a decision to use the naloxone and my training kicked in once I recognised that she was having an overdose," he said. "She was definitely going to die if nothing happened."

"It genuinely saves people's lives and there is no need to die"

Mr Crawford, who praised the ACT Government for its support, said the trial needed to be continued so more needless overdoses could be avoided.

"Looking back on it, I didn't feel heroic or anything like that but more satisfied and a little euphoric when she came around," he said.

"I was able to make a difference because the ambulance took about 20 minutes to arrive."

Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drug Association ACT chief executive Carrie Fowlie said she was proud to be involved with the program.

"Canberra has been a real trailblazer in setting up this up and what's really powerful is that it is has been led by the community that is most affected; people who use opioids and those at risk of overdose," she said.

"They have led this themselves and standing next to them have been nurses, doctors, researchers and policy makers."

Ms Fowlie said more Canberrans died from opioids like heroin and oxycodone than in car crashes on our roads.

"Tragically many families have been touched by a drug overdose that could have been prevented."

ACT Health Minister Simon Corbell will table an independent evaluation of the trail in the Legislative Assembly on Monday, with Ms Fowlie expecting an ongoing show of support.

Professor Paul Dietze, head of alcohol and drug research at the Burnet Institute, said the Canberra drug and alcohol sector had led by example and equipped users with basic life support training

"Naloxone is a medicine that has just one effect: it starts people breathing again after an overdose," he said. "It saves lives."

Dr Anna Olsen, a visiting fellow at the Australian National University, said the program had proved a simple lifesaving measure.

"It shows us that use of take-home naloxone by lay people is an effective intervention in overdose situations," she said.

Professor Simon Lenton, a deputy director at Curtin University's drug research institute, said the program should be adopted as part of a national response to preventing drug-related harms.

Mr Crawford, who has lost four friends to overdoses in the last few years, said the trial also gave users a sense of pride rather than being viewed as "a waste of space" or as "oxygen thieves".

"It's really clear that people are coming to the training and walking away with a sense they could save someone's life, and that's an amazing feeling," he said.

Other researchers and academics said the governments across Australia needed to make naloxone training and supply a regular service.

"The findings of the evaluation, demonstrating the life-saving benefits of take-home naloxone in Canberra, have led us to conclude that take-home naloxone programs should be funded as core business for the health sector," said David McDonald, a visiting fellow at the ANU.

"As many thousands of Australians use prescribed or illicit opioids every day, take-home naloxone should routinely be made available for anyone who uses opioids, and for their families and friends," said Dr Marianne Jauncey, director of the Sydney Medically Supervised Injecting Centre.

Henry Belot is a reporter at The Canberra Times.

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