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Increased demand for life-saving heroin antidote

PUBLISHED: 05:30 21 March 2019 | UPDATED: 08:33 21 March 2019

Drug deaths increased 82% in the East of England between 1993 and 2017  Picture: PAUL FAITH/PA

Drug deaths increased 82% in the East of England between 1993 and 2017 Picture: PAUL FAITH/PA

Distribution of an opioid overdose antidote credited with saving lives has increased tenfold in Suffolk.

In total, 657 ‘take-home’ naloxone (THN) kits were dispensed in 2017/18 compared to 62 in 2015/16.

The medication has been available from treatment services, without prescription, since a legislative change in October 2015.

In Suffolk, kits are available to people accessing needle and syringe programmes, opioid substitution therapy and homeless outreach services, as well as to family, friends or carers of people at risk of opioid-related overdose.

Suffolk’s community treatment provider has trained one mental health support service to hold and administer naloxone, while a pilot will begin at five pharmacies next month to allow access to take-home kits when services close.

Drug policy campaigners said many authorities were failing to provide enough naloxone, which can also reverse an overdose of synthetic opioid painkillers.

Drug deaths increased 82% in the East of England between 1993 and 2017 from 183 to 334.

A report by the charity Release showed 16 take-home kits were given out across the country last year to every 100 opiate users – based on estimate users when the 36-month shelf-life began.

In Suffolk, 657 kits were taken home by an estimated 2,391 users (27 per 100) although 1,107 were offered and not all accepted. In the first two quarters of this year, 352 of 533 offered kits were dispensed.

Although just 30 of 1,257 users in treatment took kits home in 2017/18, Release found many other local authorities did not offer kits in treatment services and that many prisons failed to provide naloxone to vulnerable groups.

HMP Norwich, which holds a large proportion of inmates from Suffolk, has developed a pilot to ensure kits are offered on release.

Although Suffolk rehabilitation centres do not provide take-home kits, The Recovery Hub and East Coast Recovery are trained to administer the medication.

Zoe Carre, from Release, said the amount of take-home kits given out nationally had been “abysmally low”, but that more authorities, like Suffolk, had begun programmes and were making them available to people on opioid substitution therapy.

Public Health Suffolk said it would also be encouraging distribution of take-home kits to residents leaving commissioned detox and rehab centres in, and outside the county.

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