New campaign promoting the use of naloxone

The Harm Reduction Coalition has been working in collaboration with the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network to create the online campaign, ‘I’m the evidence. Naloxone works’. The campaign centres on the drug Naloxone, which is highly effective in treating the often-fatal effects of heroin overdose.

Naloxone is an opiate antagonist. It limits the physical blow of an overdose by blocking chemical receptors in the brain, temporarily reversing often-fatal effects like suppressed respiration.

‘I’m the evidence. Naloxone works’ is based around a collection of often-touching personal video testimonies submitted by people (medical workers, users, friends of addicts) who have used the drug to save the life of an overdosing person, or who have themselves been rescued by it. They describe their campaign to promote and expand Naloxone use as ‘overdose prevention and awareness through the art of storytelling’.

One Naloxone supporter on the site is Louie Jones, from New York Users Union. Louie saved his friend’s life when he noticed that he had become unconscious after injecting heroin. Armed with a Naloxone kit bag, which he had learnt to use in a course he took on the drug, Louie was able to resuscitate his friend from a point of near-death in a matter of seconds. ‘I’ve had the privilege of knowing that Narcon (naloxone)…. does save lives’, he says. ‘Overdose is preventable.’

There has been growing optimism around Naloxone in the UK, too. A pilot called the ‘Take Home Naloxone Rescue Scheme’ was introduced in Wales in 2009 to reduce the large number of deaths caused by heroin and methadone overdose there. Initially run as a trial project, the kit was distributed in prisons and given to selected users and their families. The excellent results that health workers saw in the pilot meant that, in April of this year, the project was rolled out across the whole of Wales. The Welsh government reported that ‘the evidence relating to the use of Naloxone was found to be encouraging’ – in its first year, it helped more than 50 heroin users to survive an overdose.

‘Without question, it has saved lives already’, says Clive Wolfendale of the north Wales drug and alcohol agency Cais. In Massachusetts, US,  where addicts and their parents have been given the kits, the authorities have reported the Naloxone scheme to be been very successful. Since making the drug more widely-available to the public, they say, that more than a thousand lives have been saved.

Emily Finch, who prescribes the drug to residents at St. Mungo’s, is an addiction psychiatrist from South London and Maudsley NHS trust. She is confident that the drug is safe and wants to see Naloxone being given out to all of the 4,000 patients she is responsible for, so that both they and their families can begin to take control of heroin addiction.

According to Mark Parmar, who ran a trial around Naloxone with the Medical Research Council in the UK, Naloxone seems, in many senses, to be a ‘no-brainer’ drug. Inexpensive, it does not cause serious side-effects and is non-addictive. Even when poorly administered, it is unlikely to cause any harm.

There are some who have expressed fears that giving out Naloxone kits will encourage people to take risks with heroin and that its easy availability will unwittingly deter heroin addicts from seeking better long-term rehabilitation. ‘It (Naloxone) looks very promising’, says Parmar ‘but it's not as simple as that, especially when you are talking about changing behaviours of injecting drug users.’

Clive Wolfendale has little time for the argument that heroin addicts are undeserving of this treatment, however. ‘Condemning them (heroin users) to a life or death situation when a remedy is available is not defensible in any sort of society that Wales wants to be.’ Naloxone is useful, argue many, because it is a life-saver that paves the way for effective, compassionate and inclusive rehabilitation. ‘What we are trying to do is get people off drugs and not perpetuate the situation’ says Wolfendale . 

'I'm the evidence. Naloxone works'