Naloxone kit supply may have saved almost 1,400 lives in 2020, report finds

There has been a large increase in the uptake of take-home naloxone kits in Scotland, and the emergency antidote for overdoses caused by heroin and other opioids is likely to have saved many lives.
Drug abuse

The number of naloxone kits handed out in Scotland increased by “at least” 31% in 2020 compared with the previous year, according to the latest report from the Scottish Drug Deaths Taskforce.

The report, published in June 2021, concluded that almost 1,400 lives may have been saved through the use of the kits in 2020, as repeat supplies of naloxone used in case of overdoses had increased by 1,378 between December 2019 and December 2020.

Naloxone is used as an emergency antidote for overdoses caused by heroin and other opioids, such as methadone, morphine and fentanyl.

The total number of naloxone kits supplied as of 31 December 2020 was 89,543; an increase of 21,107 from 2019. The kits were distributed through a range of services, including community pharmacies, and also prisons, community prescribing, the ambulance service and acute hospital supplies.

The report also says that first-time supplies of naloxone increased by 3,989 between December 2019 and December 2020, a rise of 14%, and naloxone kits supplied on release from prison had increased by 16% (1,180 kits).

Charity Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs (SFAD) has been providing “click-and-deliver” naloxone kits since May 2020 to help make the kits available during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of 25 July 2021, the charity said it had sent out 506 naloxone kits through the service. Of these, 430 were injection kits and 76 were for nasal administration.

“Any increase in the uptake of take-home naloxone in Scotland is very welcome,” said Justina Murray, chief executive of SFAD.

“We can see from those accessing our service that individuals at risk of overdose, their family members and other people in the community are keen to carry naloxone but prefer to access it from the privacy of their home in a quick, straightforward and confidential way.

“For many reasons, including the stigma, shame and secrecy of drug use and drug harm in Scotland, people may not want to contact a local drug support service, or go to their community pharmacy, to access a naloxone kit.”

The rate of drug-related deaths in Scotland is higher than in any EU country, and around 3.5 times higher than in the UK as a whole. In 2019 — the most recent year for which full data are available — there were 1,264 drug-related deaths in the nation. In June 2021, the Scottish government said that it would spend £14.4m on frontline services in 2021/2022 to help reduce the number of drug deaths. The funding comes from a larger pot of £250m over the next five years.

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Citation
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, July 2021, Vol 307, No 7951;307(7951)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2021.1.97953