New Website Aims to Reduce Worldwide Overdose Deaths from Opioids Drug users can be trained to use overdose antidote naloxone and save lives, says international public health coalition

VILNIUS, Lithuania, June 10, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Drug users, their families, and friends, need to know how to use, access, and advocate for the life-saving drug naloxone, said the Open Society Foundations and an international coalition of public health organizations today who launched the website naloxoneinfo.org

The coalition includes the Open Society Foundations, Harm Reduction International, Harm Reduction Coalition, Eurasian Harm Reduction Network, Population Services International, Scottish Drugs Forum, and the Asian Network of People Who Use Drugs. 

"The launch of this website marks the beginning of an international conversation on a ground-up approach to stemming the overdose epidemic," said Daniel Wolfe, Director of the Open Society Foundations' International Harm Reduction Development Program. "It is my hope that this site and its resources will help equip advocates with the evidence they need to convince governments that drug users' lives are worth saving."

The evidence-based website presents a variety of simple resources curated by leaders in the field. The site covers what naloxone is and how it can be used, and offers sample materials for training drug users and friends and family of drug users on how to safely administer the antidote. The site also includes tools for advocates to use when talking to doctors, police and governments about expanding access to the life-saving antidote in different settings.

"We have long known that naloxone saves lives but too few people can get it or know how to use it," said Dr. Sharon Stancliff, Medical Director at the Harm Reduction Coalition. "Drug users and those close to them are often the first or only people available to respond to an overdose, and can be easily trained to use naloxone to save lives."

Used in emergency rooms for decades, naloxone is an easy-to-use, non-abusable, and highly effective antidote to overdose from heroin and other opioids. The drug has no abuse potential and works by blocking the opiate receptors in the brain—essentially shutting down the overdose as it happens. Often called the "Lazarus Drug," witnesses of its life-saving properties say that victims appear to wake from the dead.

Overdose is a serious and often overlooked cause of death among people who use drugs. In the United States alone, drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental deaths. With the CDC reporting 38,329 total deaths in 2011—or one death every fourteen minutes—drug overdose now kills more people a year than car accidents.

Outside of North America and Western Europe, little is known about the overdose situation due to poor record-keeping and punitive drug policies that push drug users away from supportive care and services.

"In many countries, especially in Eastern Europe and Asia, drug users will not call for help in the event of an overdose because they fear the police will accompany the ambulance and arrest them for drug use," says Dasha Ocheret, Policy and Advocacy Program Manager of the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network. "Providing drug users with naloxone and training them to use it can help to reduce countless overdose deaths while also linking them to essential services like needle exchange, and HIV and drug treatment programs. This website will help the harm reduction service providers and community groups we work with to do just that."

Naloxoneinfo.org was created in both English and Russian and holds over 30 tools and resources for getting naloxone in the hands of those who need it most.

The launch of naloxoneinfo.org occurred at the 23rd International Harm Reduction Conference in Vilnius, Lithuania. Over 800 delegates from almost 70 countries gathered at the conference to discuss approaches to drug use and drug policy centered in health and human rights-based approaches.

Facts about overdose from naloxone programs around the world:

  • Vietnam: In northern Vietnam, 43.5 percent of injecting drug users interviewed had survived an overdose. Drug user groups in Vietnam are working to address this, and have recorded scores of reversals with naloxone and rescue breathing in the past three years.
  • Tajikistan: In Tajikistan, nongovernmental organizations won an order from the Ministry of Health allowing them to store up to 500 vials of naloxone and distribute them to people at risk of overdose.
  • USA: In the United States, more than 53,000 people have been trained in overdose response, and more than 10,000 rescues with naloxone have been reported.
  • Kyrgyzstan: In Kyrgyzstan, the Global Fund supports the purchase of $25,000 worth of naloxone a year, and the Ministry of Health allows for its distribution directly to drug users through nongovernmental organizations.
  • UK: In 2011-12 in Scotland, 715 take-home naloxone kits were issued to prisoners at risk of opioid overdose upon their release from prison.
  • China: Peer outreach workers carrying naloxone have performed more than 800 successful overdose reversals.
  • Kazakhstan: In the first year of Kazakhstan's overdose pilot, 137 naloxone kits were given to drug users, resulting in 31 reported reversals.
  • Russia: In Russia, one NGO attracted 900 new drug-using clients when it started its naloxone distribution program. Since naloxone is something that drug users want access to, these programs attract drug users into existing health services and strengthen the bond between clients and health care providers.
  • Thailand: Nongovernmental organizations in Thailand successfully negotiated with suppliers to decrease the price of a vial of naloxone from 240 to 77 Thai Baht.
  • Canada: After a safer-injection facility opened in Vancouver, Canada, the fatal overdose rate in the surrounding area fell by 35 percent.
  • India: After an overdose response initiative began in the northeast Indian state of Manipur, those trained were able to respond to 95 percent of recorded overdose cases.
  • Australia: In Australia, about 1 person dies from a heroin overdose each day. Naloxone pilot projects have recently begun, and hope to change this statistic.
  • Tanzania: In a survey of people who inject drugs in Tanzania, one third reported experiencing an overdose in the previous twelve months.
  • Colombia: In Colombia, where heroin use is now increasing, reports of overdose are common though naloxone is not yet available for peer distribution.

About the Open Society Foundations
The Open Society Foundations work to build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens. Working with local communities in more than 100 countries, the Open Society Foundations support justice and human rights, freedom of expression, and access to public health and education.

SOURCE Open Society Foundations



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