Antidote drug saved 6 users from heroin death - report
A DRUG which temporarily reverses the effect of a heroin overdose has now prevented six possible deaths.
But concerns have been raised that improving safety for users could be creating a mixed message about the dangers of drugs.
Since its introduction in February, 115 users have been prescribed and trained how to use Naloxone in Llanelli and Carmarthen, and the service will soon be rolled out in Ammanford. Five other people, such as a family member of a user, have also been trained in its use.
Naxolone's ability to reverse the effects of heroin or other opium-derived drugs can give the emergency crews more time to arrive and treat an overdose patient, Carmarthenshire Council's social justice, crime and disorder committee heard.
Amy Jayham, head of medicine management at Hywel Dda Health Board, told councillors: "We have got, to date, evidence that we have prevented six possible deaths."
Councillor Gwyneth Thomas asked if users were taking more drugs because they knew this "antidote" was available.
But Ms Jayham said: "It stops the effects but it's not a pleasant treatment. You will still go to hospital and have an assessment by a doctor or nurse in charge."
Peter Llewellyn, the health board's head of strategic partnerships, said they were now working with accident and emergency staff to see if other people could benefit from Naxolone because most people who died from an overdose will have gone to the unit two or three times before.
"I think there are a lot more people out there that would benefit from it," he said. "The progress in Carmarthenshire has been astounding given that we haven't been doing it that long."
The committee also heard a needle exchange programme was picking up, with 21 accredited pharmacies in the county now offering the service and return rates increasing from 30 per cent five years ago to 55 per cent in 2010/11.
There were 9,400 packs handed out in 2009/10, rising to 12,100 in 2010/11, but the number of needles per pack had now been reduced from 10 to three to reduce the number of needles in circulation.
The health board had also been testing users for infections and found no one with HIV, but a third of users tested did have hepatitis. Health staff offered hepatitis vaccines and advice, councillors heard.
Councillor John Jenkins was worried all the good health work could damage efforts to prevent drug use in the first place.
"I would rather spend a little more on preventing the mess and a little less on cleaning up the mess," he said. "In one instance we are talking about going into schools and saying 'drugs are bad' but on the other hand we are saying 'if you take it we will make it as safe as possible'."
He added: "Are we making the problem worse by making the drug safer? There should be a fear of drug taking."
Council community safety manager Kate Thomas said the report was focusing on health and the community safety partnership, which brings together the police, council and other public bodies, was looking at the issue of prevention.
Mr Llewellyn said their last three-year strategy focused on treatment, but the next one would be about early intervention.