The NZ Drug Foundation has been fighting for better access to naloxone for years, and it's still ongoing. While we wait, more people are dying.
Approximately 46 New Zealanders die from opioid overdoses every year, and hundreds are hospitalised. Aotearoa is still grossly under-prepared for the kind of opioid epidemic that has been seen overseas, where tens of thousands died before measures were put in place.
There is strong international evidence backing the use of naloxone to treat opioid overdoses, with guidelines recommending take-home naloxone is handed out to anyone who uses opioids.
A three-year pilot in Australia has seen positive results. Naloxone distribution has also led to helpful conversations and better relationships between people who use drugs and the pharmacy, doctor or non-profit dispensing it.
But in Aotearoa, naloxone is still not funded, and it's not getting to the people who could put it to use. Like this person, who literally saved a life:
She came back in a few weeks later to thank me for the kit, as her auntie's partner had an overdose and they were able to administer naloxone after his breathing had slowed, his lips were blue and they couldn't shake him awake. I'm not sure if they still called an ambulance but he was very close to stopping breathing entirely and was brought back by the naloxone less than a minute after it was given."
In 2021 we took matters into our own hands, setting up a Givealittle which raised enough money to purchase 60 naloxone kits, which we distributed via the Needle Exchange.
Naloxone is also reaching some communities through opioid substitution treatment programmes. We are hearing anecdotally that it has already saved lives.
But this is only a fraction of the amount required. Naloxone should be funded and readily available to anyone who needs it, including friends and loved ones of people using opioids. It should be carried by all Police and Emergency services, and supplied at all needle exchange outlets.
We estimate at least 85,000 people could benefit from take-home naloxone, including those who use prescription opioids, people on opioid substitution therapy and people who inject illicit opioids. At the moment there are only a few thousand packs getting out there each year. With more, we could save dozens of lives and hundreds of hospitalisations a year.”
Sarah Helm, Executive Director NZ Drug Foundation
18 January 2023
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