Levels of naloxone provision by local authorities are ‘chronically inadequate’ and ‘certainly not sufficient to prevent opioid deaths to any meaningful extent’, according to research carried out by Release. Although take-home naloxone is now provided by 90 per cent of local authorities (DDN, September, page 4), Freedom of Information requests revealed that just 12 take-home kits were being given out for every 100 people using opiates.
The charity surveyed more than 150 local authorities, of which 117 provided details of the number of kits they’d given out in 2016-17. Naloxone coverage was found to be between 1 and 20 per cent in more than 70 of the areas, while the best-performing local council, Somerset, still achieved less than 50 per cent coverage. Of those authorities providing naloxone, almost a third did not do so through needle and syringe programmes and almost a fourth did not provide take-home kits to people accessing OST or to family, friends and carers of those at risk of overdose.
Nearly one in five also required people to be referred and/or book an appointment in order to receive naloxone, while more than 20 per cent required them to be assessed first. ‘These requirements are a major barrier to naloxone access and are therefore contributing factors to overdose deaths,’ says Release.
‘There were nearly 1,900 opiate-related overdose deaths registered in England in 2016 – the highest number since records began, and over four times higher than the figure in 1993,’ said Release’s Zoe Carre, who conducted the research. ‘Many of these deaths could have been prevented if naloxone, a life-saving antidote to opioid overdose, was provided more widely for people to take home. The scale of the problem is a public health crisis, as such it requires a national and coordinated response, and government must not leave it to local authorities but must take action to prevent more people dying.’
While the government’s latest drug strategy recommends that all local authority areas should have appropriate provision in place, the approach of some is ‘far from adequate and may be contributing to avoidable overdose deaths’, she continued. ‘A national take-home naloxone programme is needed in England as a matter of urgency to coordinate and monitor take-home naloxone provision across local authorities. This has been successfully implemented in Scotland, and England should follow suit. Government must act now to prevent more of its vulnerable and marginalised citizens from dying.’
Full survey results at www.release.org.uk/naloxone