Lifesaving opioid overdose antidote could be made more easily accessible under new plans

East Yorkshire substance misuse recovery charity welcomes overdose antidote plans from the Department of Health & Social Care.

Tim Young, Chief Executive of The Alcohol and Drug Service
  • Plans to increase the number of services supplying naloxone without prescription – the lifesaving emergency antidote for overdoses caused by opiates or opioids
  • Comes as more pharmacies encouraged to take on drug substitute treatments – like Methadone – providing an easily accessible, respectful and supportive service to patients
  • Government’s 10-year Drug Strategy has so far disrupted over 4,500 Organised Crime Groups and added 1,670 vital staff to the drug and alcohol treatment workforce.

Thousands more lives could be saved as the government sets out plans for police, probation and prison services, midwives, paramedics, and nurses to provide take-home supplies of a lifesaving treatment for opioid overdoses – without a prescription.

Overseeing substance misuse services in East Yorkshire, Tim Young, Chief Executive of The Alcohol and Drug Service, said: “We welcome this news and view it as a crucial part of successfully delivering the national strategy. In simple terms, we need to keep people alive if they are to benefit from the improvements across the recovery and treatment system. In overdose situations Naloxone can do just that.”

Naloxone is a powerful medicine that almost immediately reverses the effects of an opioid overdose by reversing breathing difficulties. Currently, it can be administered by anyone in an emergency, but can only legally be supplied without prescription to an individual to take home for future use by a drug treatment service.  

Under new government plans, a much wider range of services, healthcare professionals, and organisations could supply the antidote on a ‘take-home’ basis for use in a future emergency – potentially supporting thousands of people and their loved ones.

These additional services could provide the antidote to a family member or friend of a person who is known to be using opiates such as heroin or opioids (including potent synthetic opioids like fentanyl or nitazenes), or to an outreach worker for a homelessness service whose clients may include people who use these drugs.

Public Health Minister, Andrea Leadsom, said: “Expanding access to the lifesaving antidote naloxone could save lives and prevent families and friends from enduring the unimaginable grief of losing a loved one to drugs.

 “We are going further and faster to combat the trade and use of illegal drugs, while taking bold action to detect and break drug supply chains and save lives.

“Our 10-year Drug Strategy commits to reducing drug-related deaths by 1,000 in England by 2025, and £780 million is going into revolutionising treatment and support for people across the nation.”

Tackling the supply of illicit drugs, and relentlessly pursuing criminal networks, is at the centre of the government’s 10-year Drug Strategy. An unprecedented £780 million is being invested to build a world-class treatment system to turn people’s lives around and stop the cycle of crime. By the end of the parliament, local authority funding for treatment will have grown by 40% compared to 2020.

Since the start of the Drug Strategy funding in April 2022, the government has successfully: 

  • delivered over 4,500 disruptions to Organised Crime Groups 
  • closed over 2,000 county lines, meeting the three-year target of 2,000 18 months early 
  • made over 50,000 drug tests on suspects who have been arrested, which helps us divert them into life changing treatment 
  • increased the drug and alcohol treatment workforce with 1,670 additional staff
  • stood up 106 new Combating Drugs Partnerships in every area in England.

The Department of Health and Social Care will run a six-week UK-wide public consultation on the proposals to extend the provision of Naloxone, seeking views on the plans from healthcare professionals, services, and commissioners of services, as well as those with lived experience of addiction.

Opioid-related deaths make up the largest proportion of drug-related deaths across the UK, with an average of 40 deaths a week, but widening access to naloxone for those at risk of overdose will make a substantial difference.

Crime and Policing Minister, Chris Philp, said: “We are highly alert to the threat from synthetic opioids and must stay one step ahead. We have a cross-government taskforce to co-ordinate our response and are continuously identifying new drugs and banning them – including 14 new nitazenes, a class of highly dangerous substances.

“The provision of naloxone will be lifesaving and I am pleased this antidote will be more available for those in desperate need. More broadly our strategy is to tackle both the illicit supply of drugs, relentlessly pursuing criminal networks, and to build a world-class treatment system to turn people’s lives around.”

High quality, safe, and effective care will be given to patients seeking treatment for drug misuse, as the government also unveils proposed new guidance for pharmacists, pharmacy teams, and commissioners.

The guidance will see more pharmacies agree to take on supervised consumption of medicines – like methadone and buprenorphine – used in drug treatment, providing a respectful and supportive service to patients, liaising effectively with drug services over attendance. It also outlines good practice for other substance misuse services delivered by community pharmacies in England.

Methadone is used to help people to stop taking heroin. It reduces withdrawal symptoms, such as shaking, shivering and other flu-like symptoms. It also helps stop cravings. Buprenorphine can also be used to treat drug dependency. This will help engage more people in drug and alcohol treatment, and reduce harms associated with drug and alcohol use, including deaths from accidental overdose. 

The guidance seeks to support a reversal in community pharmacies pulling out of providing services that support people with drug problems, and show how quality, supportive services can be commissioned and provided.

Independent Adviser to Government on Combating Drug Misuse, Professor Dame Carol Black, said: “That the government plans to increase the number of services, health professionals and organisations who can supply Naloxone without prescription is much to be applauded.

“This is a highly effective antidote to heroin and the increasing number of synthetic opioids in circulation. It quite simply saves lives after an overdose has occurred.”