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Life-saving drug more available than ever before

One simple injection of Naloxone can save someone’s life, and it is now available in two Hobart pharmacies.

Sign showing pharmacy dispenses Naloxone"Naloxone is a proven lifesaving drug for people who inject opiate based drugs and suffer an overdose,” said Emily Arnold, Anglicare’s Team Leader for the Needle and Syringe Program (NSP).

“It’s not a new drug, but in the past it has only been used in a medical or emergency department setting. Only since the beginning of last year has it been available over the counter in Tasmanian pharmacies.

“Often people have seen it used in movies or on television, where a paramedic injects a person who has had an overdose and they come out of the overdose fairly quickly.

“We are wanting to spread the word in the injecting community that this lifesaving drug is more available to people who inject drugs than ever before,” said Emily, “Having a dose on hand can prevent a fatal overdose and allow more precious time for an ambulance to arrive.

“My colleagues and I have attended the funerals of people who've died of drug overdose. It was a privilege to have known those people in our work, and I personally regret that Naloxone wasn’t more widely available earlier when I think of them.

“While Naloxone only works on reversing opiates, if the opiate has been used in conjunction with another drug such as Xanax or other benzodiazipines, at least it will reverse the opiate and may be enough to bring the person out of the overdose zone.

“The danger however, is that when a person combines two drugs that depress the central nervous system it enhances the effect of each and can push the person into the overdose zone very easily.

“The good news that we are communicating to our clients is that Naloxone is now available over the counter at Jerry Hampton AMCAL pharmacies in North Hobart and West Hobart,” said Emily. These are the only pharmacies selling Naloxone at this point in time and people who wish to purchase it can remain anonymous if they want to, although they will need to chat with the pharmacist.

“We are recommending that people purchase two doses, as one dose may not be enough or only be enough for a short amount of time,” said Emily, “Opiates have a longer life in your system than Naloxone, so a second dose may be required.”

Anglicare’s Needle and Syringe Program is a non-judgemental, confidential, friendly service which has resources and support for people who inject drugs. They provide access to safe injecting equipment and disposal facilities. Specialised staff provide brief interventions, referrals, equipment demonstrations and information.

“We are an arm of harm reduction,” said Emily, “we accept that drug use occurs and we're compassionate to people who inject and use drugs.”

“When people are injecting illicit drugs they have higher health risks such as contracting the blood borne viruses hep C and HIV. Our aim is to safely provide people what they need during this period of their life so as to reduce the risks involved.

“We are not focussed on reducing demand, but making sure we reduce the risk of blood borne viruses and other injecting-related harms - overdose being one of them.

"The Australian NSP initiative started during the HIV epidemic in the late 1980s early 1990s.

"It is our country's most famous harm reduction initiative. Only 1% of our injecting drug population are HIV positive, compared to the USA’s 20%. The USA were much slower introducing their NSP program than Australia and we have proven its success," said Emily.

The church has played an active part in Australian harm reduction history with the Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross delivering one of the first NSPs in the country, as well as setting up an illegal injecting room. Both were acts of civil disobedience which helped to pave the way to future approved and successful harm reduction programs such as the medically supervised injecting centre in Kings Cross which has prevented 4400 overdoses with not a single fatality since it opened in 2000.

Emily hopes that the more ready availability of Naloxone will help to reduce overdoses and their tragic consequences.

“There are massive barriers to getting people who are overdosing the appropriate treatment. Families and friends fear getting in trouble, being implicated or being judged. Giving those in the injecting drug community the means to protect themselves and their loved ones, will hopefully empower people and ultimately save lives,” Emily said.

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