International Overdose Awareness Day is a global event held on 31 August each year to raise awareness of overdoses, reduce the stigma of drug-related deaths and acknowledge the grief felt by families and friends.
South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM), together with the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), King’s College London, are world-leaders in research on prevention of overdose deaths, first proposing Take-Home Naloxone (THN) to reduce heroin overdose death 25 years ago.
Pharmacists and nurses at the Trust are now piloting a project to support people in contact with the NHS’s wide range of treatment services in the community and inpatients on mental health units to take naloxone home following discharge – a service previously only been provided from within our addiction treatment services. Naloxone is a remarkable medicine which reverses the effects of opioids – it is essentially a ‘heroin antidote’.
Mental health nurses across the Maudsley Hospital are being trained to improve their awareness and knowledge of opioid drugs, recognising the signs, symptoms and risk factors of opioid overdose. This will also involve a ‘train the trainers’ approach, with nurses able to train people who use our services and their carers, to use Take-Home Naloxone when need arises.
Researchers from King’s College London and SLaM have been central to the continuing development of Take-Home Naloxone. Their research was the basis for creating a more acceptable nasal spray form of naloxone and has been instrumental to enabling its increasing uptake through informing and evaluating training approaches.
Sir Norman Lamb, Chair of South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, said:
“We are proud to support International Overdose Awareness Day and help to reduce the stigma surrounding drug-related deaths.
“It is wholly tragic, and unacceptable, that many of these deaths are preventable. I am pleased we are pioneering a new approach to support people who use our services and to keep people as safe as possible.”
Professor Sir John Strang, Director of the National Addiction Centre of King’s College London and theme lead for substance use and harms at the NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre, said:
‘It is crucial that we bring the best of the NHS and the best of British university minds together to tackle this problem of opioid overdose deaths. Every year, globally, more than 100,000 people die from opioid overdose, and yet we have an effective antidote, naloxone, which can be given by injection or by nasal spray, and which reverses the overdose within a few minutes.
There is still a huge amount of stigma surrounding overdose deaths and this needs to be removed so we can introduce effective treatments and reduce the growing number of lives ended tragically early from overdose of heroin or other opioids. Crucially this needs public recognition, clinical implementation and government backing if lives are to be saved."
Dr Emily Finch, Clinical Director for Addictions and Joint Deputy Medical Director at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, said:
“We know that harm-reduction is the most effective way to reduce drug-related deaths.
"Our inpatient and community services at Maudsley Hospital are now able to receive and deliver Take Home Naloxone training to staff, service users and carers.
“We intend to expand this training to other hospital sites and community mental health teams across our boroughs to support people who use our services and reduce risk.”
Martin McCusker, Lambeth Service User Council, said:
“On International Overdose Awareness Day, it is really important to remember that behind every drug-related death statistic is a person who loved and was loved, who was someone’s son, daughter, mother or father.
“Most accidental overdoses are entirely preventable. We need to raise awareness around what overdose looks like from all substances, and support people to understand how to help in the event of an overdose.
“We must tackle stigma and challenge perceptions around overdose – whether this is on illicit or prescribed substances - and ensure drug policy supports and reflects this.”
Researchers at the National Addiction Centre, King’s College London are currently leading a European research study across six countries investigating actual overdose management efforts by service users and family members.