Safe solution provided by HSE to help drug-users who overdose

By Maurice Garvey

FIVE weeks ago in Clondalkin during International Overdose Awareness Day, professional health training was provided to 12 people who use drugs, or have a history of drug use, which local support service Neart Le Chéile say, will save lives.

The HSE training was in the use of Naloxone – a safe medication which counteracts the effects of an opioid overdose within minutes.

Neart le cheile 15 compressor

Ann Corrigan Richard Morgan and Yvonne Mullen

Essentially it can be administered via a nasal spray or a simple injection, in much the same way someone with a food allergy might require an EpiPen.

Naturally the medication has to be administered by someone else.

According to a 2015 HSE evaluation report on Naloxone, over 40 per cent of people who died from heroin-related overdoses, were not alone at the time.

“You still call an ambulance, in terms of administering it is very straightforward, similar to CPR first aid, but potentially it can keep someone alive,” said Yvonne Mullen, project worker at Neart Le Chéile, who support families and people with a history of drug use.

Despite Naloxone being recommended by the World Health Organisation, it is as of yet available sporadically in Ireland via projects like Merchants Quay, Neart Le Chéile and a handful of GP’s – perhaps due to health professionals not wanting to ‘promote’ drug use.

“We neither promote nor condemn (drug use) – for us, it is about harm reduction,” said Ann Corrigan, Manager at Neart Le Chéile.

“If you go to a GP, the feedback we are getting (from members), is they are met with resistance, as opposed to [GPs] recognising it as a harm reduction exercise,” added Yvonne.

The Echo met up with Corrigan and Mullen at Neart Le Chéile’s premises in Neilstown Shopping Centre this week, where they stressed the importance of how Naloxone could save many more lives.

It is their hope that further Naloxone training is rolled out across other communities, and incorporated into national health and drug-related strategies and programmes.

Ideally, training would be delivered to service providers, front-line workers and family members of people with a history of drug use.

Ann continued: “It has to go hand in hand with training. We are the first local organisation where members were trained and prescribed on the night. There was a good uptake, 15 of 17 families invited to it attended.”

Denis O’Driscoll, former Chief Pharmacist with the HSE Addiction Services, was involved in the training in Clondalkin, and it was he who led and managed the 2015 Naloxone report for the HSE.

In that 2015 Naloxone Demonstration Project report, the HSE said they hoped the research will “deepen understanding of Naloxone as part of a suite of harm minimisation tools for those at risk of overdose, and for front-line workers and family members who wish to be prepared.”

“If you want to bring down overdoses, this needs to happen,” said Yvonne, who referenced recent National Drug Index stats, which indicate drug deaths in Ireland are higher than suicides and road traffic collisions combined.

In 2016, up to 736 people died from drug-related deaths – of which 354 were overdoses.

“The idea is that the injectable format is more impactful, and easy to use, you don’t have to hit a vein or anything like that,” she said.

Ann continued: “In an overdose situation, you may be panicked. This (injectable) is more of a certainty. There are five doses in a needle. You do one, wait five minutes. It’s an antagonist, it flushes out heroin and methadone.”

The pair cite previous State warnings for smoking, drinking, and motor accidents, as further reasons why Naloxone should be highlighted via a national campaign

“It is no different to when an individual tries to give up smoking or alcohol – but for people who relapse or in cases of opiate use, it is high-risk,” said Yvonne.

Ann said: “It will save lives. There is a role for everything, government, doctors, pharmacists, and a role for people who use drugs, and family and the broader community to understand it.

“The National Drug Strategy are now saying drug use is a health issue. If so, why not include this.”

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