Naloxone, a drug that works as an antidote to heroin and other kinds of opioid overdoses is now available over the counter in Australian pharmacies. It is hoped that by making the drug available outside of emergency departments and ambulances it will be administered quicker, preventing overdoses.
Naloxone works by blocking the opioid from working on the brain and nervous system; it reportedly has no effect on anyone without opioids in their system. In the US, it is available in the form of a nasal spray, and is even given free to high schools. The New York Police Department have been carrying antidote kits containing naloxone in both inhaler and syringe form since 2014. The decision followed a trial in Massachusetts where it reversed overdose in 211 cases — a staggering 95 per cent success rate.
In Australia naloxone will be available as a single-use syringe, like that found in the NYPD's kits.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) — the Australian body that regulates access to medicines — rescheduled the drug after receiving 96 submissions in support of making naloxone available over the counter from a pharmacist.
Dr Marianne Jauncey, medical director of the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre in Kings Cross — the only supervised injecting centre in the southern hemisphere — praises the move. "We need to be present, we need to recognise that it's an overdose, we need to know what to do, and we need Narcan (naxolone)," she says.
Dr Jauncey also points out that the availability of naloxone won't address the cause of opioid adiction.
"We know now just how common chronic pain is — up to 20 per cent of the population can have some form of chronic pain. Unfortunately there's been a tendency to write a script rather than looking at the other things that people can do in their lifestyle that might reduce their pain."
If opioid or other drugs are causing problems in your life, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.