Focus on naloxone to prevent overdose

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Naloxone reversal of opioid overdose should be in the hands of those who use prescribed opioids, experts say

In view of the International Overdose Awareness Day, medical researchers warn that drug strategies and policies in Australia are leaving him exposed to an opioid crisis similar to that seen in North America.

With the risk that powerful drugs like fentanyl enter the illicit drug market in Australia, researchers warn that more needs to be done to ensure that people who use opioids have access to naloxone, a drug for reversing the overdose of opioids that saves lives.

Penny Hill, a research assistant at the Burnet Institute, says that current Australian policies leave him exposed to a dramatic recovery in overdose deaths, as seen in the United States and Canada.

"All opiate overdose deaths are preventable," said Hill.

"We welcome the announcement at the beginning of this year by the Commonwealth government to fund a program at increase availability to take naloxone home".

Hill said it was essential to raise awareness of those using opioids prescribed throughout Australia for naloxone.

"Most fatal overdoses in Australia come from pharmaceutical opiates, but here in Victoria, deaths involving heroin are higher and on the rise. Family members and friends of all people who use heroin or opioids from prescription must have access to naloxone to take home and overdose training, "said Hill.

Hill, whose doctoral project is evaluating the impact of various health services on opioid overdose among people who inject drugs in Melbourne, said a recent visit to Canada highlighted the need to prepare for a opioid epidemic.

Canada, which he saw a 50% increase in accidental opioid-related deaths since 2016 was severely affected by the emergence of fentanyl in the illicit drug market.

"The provincial government of British Columbia has called a public health emergency because of the high rate of overdose deaths," he said.

Hill said that measures such as supervised injection sites, colleagues-led overdose prevention sites and illicit drug testing to warn people of dangerous components as part of a public early-warning system are all steps taken by the Canadian authorities to address the crisis, along with access enhancement to take naloxone home and opiate replacement treatment.

"We really need to increase Australia's strategies and policies to prevent what happened in Canada from happening here. If we were to experience fentanyl coming through our drug supply very quickly, we need to be ready and make sure people have the naloxone to take home, "he said.

In Australia, opiate-related drug deaths almost tripled between 2006 and 2017, new figures released by the Penington Institute show.

Saturday, August 31st, the International Day of Awareness for Overdoses is celebrated.

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