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IoPPN research drives legislative change on heroin overdose treatment

New legislation passed by the UK government means that ‘take-home’ naloxone - a single injection that can be given by friends and family to revive someone suspected of heroin overdose - can now be obtained without a prescription from any participating treatment centre.

The legislative change, introduced by Public Health England, is a result of almost 20 years of research led by Professor John Strang, Head of the Addictions Department at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), King’s College London.

Professor Strang first promoted the idea of take-home naloxone in 1996. Since then, researchers at the IoPPN have put together a portfolio of evidence and have called for the treatment to be made more readily available.

Naloxone is a fast-acting heroin overdose antidote that has been used by the medical profession for over 40 years. Injection of naloxone restores consciousness within a few minutes and allows crucial extra time in which to seek or dispense medical treatment.

The antidote is currently carried by all ambulances and administered by paramedics for emergency resuscitation when opiate overdose is suspected. However, until now, it has only been possible for drug users themselves and their families to obtain the medicine by first getting a prescription.

Scotland and Wales were the first countries in the world to introduce take-home naloxone in 2011. The United Nations passed a resolution in 2013 supporting global introduction of take-home naloxone and last year the World Health Organisation produced guidelines on the community management of heroin/opiate overdose, including advice on administering the antidote at home.

Professor Strang said: ‘This new legislation is a hugely significant step forward in making naloxone much more readily available to carers, drug users, friends or relatives, who can now request ‘take home’ naloxone from any drug treatment service commissioned by a local authority or the NHS.

‘This is vitally important given that most overdoses occur in the presence of other people and, in our research, these individuals have shown a commitment to helping in an emergency.’

The IoPPN team has designed and pioneered training for peers, relatives and health professionals about what to do if they encounter an overdose, and how to inject naloxone.

This latest legislative change draws extensively on IoPPN research and input from Dr Ed Day, a Senior Lecturer in the Addictions Department who is leading the naloxone subgroup for the Department of Health’s ‘Orange Guidelines’ Expert Committee.

Professor Strang’s Addictions team at the IoPPN and King’s Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences are currently working on the development of non-injectable forms of naloxone, including a nasal spray and tablet, to enable even wider provision of the antidote. 

Notes to editors

For further media information please contact Jack Stonebridge, Press Officer, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London

For details about the IoPPN’s research on naloxone, visit our Making a difference web pages.

The IoPPN hosted a one-day conference on naloxone in September 2014.