Drug that can reverse an opioid overdose is now free in three Australian states
Sue Dunlevy, National Health Reporter, News Corp Australia Network
November 30, 2019
Exclusive: A medication which so successfully reverses drug overdoses they call it the Lazarus drug will today become available for free, in a move which could save up to three lives a day.
More than 1100 Australians — not just illicit drug takers, but patients legally taking opioids for pain — die from overdoses every year.
And the drug Naloxone, which can reverse an overdose, could help stem Australia US-style opioid crisis.
From today, it will become available for free from community and hospital-based pharmacies, alcohol and drug treatment centres, needle and syringe programs, custodial release programs and GP clinics in NSW, South Australia and Western Australia.
It is part of a $10 million, 15-month pilot program.
Until recently the drug had to be injected, but from November 1 it became available in an inhalant form.
It takes just 5-10 minutes for a layperson to be trained how to recognise an opioid overdose and be shown how to administer an injection to reverse it.
Pain Australia is urging friends and carers of those using opioid medication to take advantage of the program and have Naloxone on hand.
“I think anyone who may be at risk or parents, carers or friends who are concerned for someone should access to the medication for free. It may save lives,” Pain Australia CEO Carol Bennett said.
Prescription opioids like OxyContin, Codeine, Fentanyl and Endone are present in over 70 per cent of opioid-induced deaths
Every day in Australia three people die from opioid overdoses, the drugs cause nearly 150 hospitalisations and 14 emergency department admissions.
Researchers have found half of the overdoses of prescription opioids involve patients with chronic pain.
These patients often have little understanding of the risks of combining opioids with alcohol and sleeping pills and their friends and families need training, drug expert Dr Marianne Jauncey wrote in Australian Prescriber.
Opioids can kill because they depresses a patient’s ability to breathe and this cuts off oxygen to the brain causing brain injury and death.
During an overdose a person’s pupils will look as small as pinpoints, they will lose consciousness and have slow or shallow breathing.
The free Naloxone pilot is the latest attempt to deal with the nation’s growing opioid crisis.
The drug has been available in community pharmacies without a prescription since 2016 but it has cost up to $40.30.
In February 2018 the government made over the counter Codeine like Panadeine prescription only and a recent University of Sydney study found this led to a 50 per cent reduction in the monthly rate of codeine-related poisoning calls and halved codeine sales.
Last month the nation’s medicine watchdog introduced changes to have smaller packs of opioids issued to people on hospital discharge to reduce dependence on the drugs.
And one of the strongest prescription opioids – Fentanyl patches – were restricted last month so they should only be prescribed to treat pain in patients with cancer, patients in palliative care and those with exceptional circumstances.