‘This is critical, we can save lives.’


Take home naloxone pilot will kick off on 1 December across community pharmacies in three states

The take home naloxone pilot will make naloxone available free and without prescription to people who may experience, or witness, an opioid overdose.

Starting on 1 December 2019 and running through to 28 February 2021, the pilot will be administered across New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia.

Community pharmacists will be able to dispense free naloxone under the pilot from 1 December, while dispensing doctors and hospital pharmacists in these states can take part in the pilot from mid-January 2020.

Organisations in New South Wales and Western Australia, including alcohol and other drug treatment services, injecting centres, homelessness and outreach services, can register to be an authorised alternative supplier.

Meanwhile South Australia will be issuing vouchers for people to take to pharmacies participating in the pilot.

Naloxone will continue to be available from all non-participating pilot providers and all states and territories with a prescription, or over the counter from a pharmacy for a fee.

The Federal Government is investing $10 million into the take home naloxone pilot.

It is estimated that there are approximately three million Australians prescribed opioids for pain annually, with around one in four prescribed long-term opioids.

Every day in Australia, nearly 150 people are admitted to hospital and three people die from opioid overdose.

In 2018, 1,740 people died from drug-induced deaths, with opioids present in 1,123 of those deaths (65%).

Naloxone can temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid overdose or adverse reaction, and can administered by injection or delivered through a nasal spray.

A NSW Health spokesperson told AJP that NSW was taking part in the pilot as “take home naloxone was endorsed as an effective life-saving strategy by the World Health Organisation in 2014”.

“The NSW Government has committed $231.6 million to alcohol and other drug services in this year’s budget and is investing more than $850 million in these services over the next four years,” says the spokesperson.

“I have two memories I will carry with me from that day. The first is of people crying when they realised there was something that might have saved their friend/family member/loved one.

“The other is hearing a story of being turned away from a community pharmacy when seeking naloxone because ‘we don’t condone illicit drug use’.”—Curtis Ruhnau

NSW Health explains that anyone who is at risk of overdosing on opioid drugs, or witnessing an opioid overdose, should consider having naloxone at home, to start to reverse an overdose quickly, even before an ambulance arrives.

Community pharmacist and proprietor Curtis Ruhnau from Western Sydney says the pilot is a “wonderful opportunity”.

“It’s something I’ve actually been waiting for, for a long time,” Mr Ruhnau tells AJP.

“We have been able to supply naloxone as a Schedule 3 medicine but without funding. This just makes access much easier for all of our people that should have it on hand.”

Curtis Ruhnau addressing audience on International Overdose Awareness Day.

Mr Ruhnau says making naloxone free through community pharmacies breaks down the barriers to accessing the medication, such as prohibitive costs and lack of prescription by doctors.

His pharmacy team will be talking to all patients who are on opioid medications and educating them “about the fact that it’s accessible and that it is a really important thing that they have on hand and understand how to use”.

“We need to understand the risks from pharmaceutical opioids and identify people who may be at risk, and start talking to them about having some take-home naloxone that they can use if they’re ever faced with an emergency,” he says.

Mr Ruhnau described his recent experience speaking to a large group at a local Aboriginal Controlled Alcohol and Other Drugs Centre for International Overdose Awareness Day.

“I have two memories I will carry with me from that day. The first is of people crying when they realised there was something that might have saved their friend/family member/loved one.

“The other is hearing a story of being turned away from a community pharmacy when seeking naloxone because ‘we don’t condone illicit drug use’.”

Mr Ruhnau says the idea of the naloxone pilot for community pharmacists is to not stigmatise anybody, but getting it to as many people as possible.

“This is critical, we can save lives,” he says.

Find out more about the pilot here

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