Reach out

Chris RintoulChris Rintoul reports positive results from a Northern Ireland naloxone programme

The Scottish Drugs Forum (SDF) watered the seeds of take-home naloxone and it allowed us to kick-start the programme in Northern Ireland. Before that we had no naloxone, and no sight of it.

People are dying – especially poor groups, people in poverty, and drug-related deaths are concentrated in these groups. People who need naloxone are likely to be people who are most disaffected. They’re not hard to reach – more easy to ignore for far too long.

Some of the action involved aggressive campaigning. I was a social worker – and that involved activism. I got active and aggressive. Service user activists and social workers pushed for us to be able to give out naloxone.

The Council for the Homeless in Northern Ireland is moving towards training for the trainers in naloxone. We developed a lot of partnerships with all stakeholders, including the Housing Executive, voluntary sector agencies, the ambulance service, and the police, and looked at the viability, efficacy, and effectiveness of naloxone. We sometimes arrive late on substitute prescribing etc – but we’ve done well on this.

People are now offered naloxone at a very early part of their treatment. We have posters and leaflets that reinforce the messages and push further for it. Take-home naloxone programmes need courageous people with credibility; people who are experts in their area.

There are opportunities now – the law change has let us expand. Outreach services and hostels can now give it out, as can pharmacies, alongside needle and syringe distribution.

Overdoses are down – we had seen them rise and rise over the decade, so to see a significant drop last year was a great thing. I can’t say that it was specifically naloxone – only time will tell. The Public Health Agency for Northern Ireland is going to devolve funding to local trusts. But because it’s in their contracts, it will be difficult for them to step away from naloxone.

Buff [Iain Cameron] and I decided we wanted to support take-home naloxone, so we developed an app and funding followed. We want to do an update, if we find the funding.

You have loads of credible and courageous people in this country – get them involved.

Chris Rintoul is lead trainer for Street Rx in Northern Ireland. He spoke at the HIT Hot Topics conference in Liverpool