Lifesaving legislation for a faster response to opiate overdoses

30 Sep 2015 11:57 AM

Blog posted by: Gavin Benn Tuesday, 29 September 2015 - 2:49pm

Naloxone to become available without prescription to homelessness services, transforming the way hostels and other services can respond to an overdose.

Public Health England has announced legislative changes that will potentially have a significant impact on homeless services and their ability to respond to opiate overdoses.  This could not be more timely, in a wider context that has seen heroin and morphine deaths rise in the UK by two-thirds in the past 2 years

Last Friday I attended the Naloxone Action Group (NAG) England, where a Public Health England representative announced the changes in legislation coming in October of this year. 

For those who aren’t familiar with Naloxone, it’s the life-saving drug that reverses the effects of an opiate overdose. Naloxone is currently available by prescription, mainly from drug treatment agencies, to current or previous drug users, for their explicit use. It can also be provided to their family members, carers, peers and friends, with agreement from the individual. Where it is supplied to the above in the event of an emergency, this is called “Take home Naloxone”.  

From 1st October 2015, new legislation will come in force that will enable naloxone to be supplied to individuals by drug services without prescription to the people outlined above, but also to a named individual in a hostel (or other facility where drug users gather and might be at risk of overdose), which could be a manager or other staff.

This means under the new law a drug treatment service could supply Naloxone to a hostel manager or outreach worker and they could then administer it in a lifesaving situation. Although the attempt to widen access to Naloxone is welcome, crucially (and somewhat disappointingly) what the new legislation doesn’t do is allow homelessness staff to dispense “take home Naloxone” in the same way treatment services can i.e. to users and carers etc. to use in the event of an overdose. Considering hostel/outreach staff are likely not to be present at the point of overdose, those critical minutes until they are could potentially be lost. 

The momentum gained by the changes in legislation appear to be a great opportunity for the estimated 50% of local authorities who do not currently provide Naloxone to invest in this life-saving drug. 

Homeless Link will be producing guidance and training for services around Naloxone in the coming months. If you work for a homelessness organisation, speak to your local authority about the availability, and importance of, Naloxone in your area.