Opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone should be in the hands of those using prescribed opioids, experts argue
Ahead of International Overdose Awareness Day, medical researchers are warning Australia’s drug strategies and policies are leaving it exposed to an opioid crisis similar to the one seen in North America.
With the risk of potent drugs such as fentanyl entering Australia’s illicit drug market, researchers warn more needs to be done to ensure people using opioids have access to the life saving opioid overdose reversal drug, naloxone.
Burnet Institute Research Assistant, Penny Hill, says Australia’s current policies leave it exposed to a dramatic upswing in overdose deaths, as seen in the US and Canada.
“All opioid overdose deaths are preventable,” Ms Hill said.
“We welcome the announcement earlier this year by the Commonwealth Government in funding a program to increase availability to take-home naloxone.”
Ms Hill said it is crucial to make those using prescribed opioids across Australia aware of naloxone.
“The majority of fatal overdoses in Australia are from pharmaceutical opioids, but here in Victoria, deaths involving heroin are highest and increasing. Family members and friends of all people using heroin or prescription opioids need to have access to free take-home naloxone and overdose training,” Ms Hill said.
Ms Hill, whose PhD project is evaluating the impact of different health services on opioid overdose among people who inject drugs in Melbourne, said a recent visit to Canada highlighted the need to prepare for an opioid epidemic.
Canada, which has seen a 50 per cent increase in accidental opioid-related deaths since 2016 has been severely impacted by the emergence of fentanyl in the illicit drug market.
“The British Columbia Provincial Government has called a public health emergency because of the high rate of overdose deaths,” she said.
Ms Hill said measures such as supervised injecting rooms, peer-led overdose prevention sites and testing of illicit drugs to warn people of dangerous components as part of a public early warning system were all measures adopted by Canadian authorities to address the crisis, along with the scale up of access to take home naloxone and opiate substitute treatment.
“We really need to scale up the strategies and policies that are in place in Australia in order to prevent what’s happened in Canada happening here. If we were to experience fentanyl coming through our drug supply really rapidly, we need to be ready and make sure people have take-home naloxone,” she said.
In Australia, drug deaths involving opioids have nearly tripled between 2006 and 2017, new figures released by the Penington Institute show.
Saturday 31 August is International Overdose Awareness Day.