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Antidote drug saved 6 users from heroin death - report

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: November 03, 2011

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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.

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  • TaipeiSteve  |  January 16 2012, 5:38PM

    Handyman: Could you define a maggot of society?

  • TaipeiSteve  |  January 16 2012, 5:38PM

    malcolmkyle16: Thanks for the link. I found the conclusions of Tranform's studies to be extremely compelling. You might likewise find this book a good of source of info on the root causes of addiction: http://tinyurl.com/6jgu2qo

  • jackthkipper  |  January 16 2012, 5:37PM

    as i said just another benefit thown at these maggots on society!

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  • TaipeiSteve  |  January 16 2012, 5:29PM

    Handyman: That's like suggesting that some people would happily have their teethed knocked out because they know they can get them fixed. Overdosing is extremely traumatic experience and the recovery can be equally harrowing. No-one will do so just because they know an anti-dote is available. I think people need to realize that no-one chooses to enter the hell of addiction. Yes, hind sight would be a fine thing, but like a person who suffers from diabetes 2 due consuming junk food or an alcoholic who began drinking in high school, most people don't believe that their initial dabbling in these foods or substances would final lead them to their current state. Please save us from the medieval 'thou shalt be punished for thy sins' approach to addiction and instead let's be a little more scientific as well as humanistic in dealing with addicts.

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  • jackthkipper  |  January 16 2012, 4:43PM

    the druggies knowing that this 'wonder drug' is out there to save them bringing them back from the black will just take advantage of yet another benefit thrown at them!

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  • claygooding  |  January 16 2012, 4:21PM

    When government officials allow people to die and they could have saved them,they are guilty of manslaughter through neglect,the same way a citizen would be that failed to give aid to someone but stood and watched them die.

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  • malcolmkyle16  |  January 16 2012, 10:02AM

    Transform's outstanding book titled, After the War on Drugs: Blueprints for Regulation, provides specific proposals for how drugs could be regulated in the real world. The book is available for free online. If you would like to read it then here it is: http://tinyurl.com/ydtc67o And here's some info on Swiss Heroin-assisted treatment (HAT) http://tinyurl.com/5s5g9t At the end of 2009, 1356 patients were undergoing HAT at 21 outpatient centers and in 2 prisons. HAT is now being carried out at centres in Basle, Bern, Biel, Brugg, Burgdorf, Chur, Geneva, Horgen, Lucerne, Olten, Reinach, Schaffhausen, Solothurn, St. Gallen, Thun, Winterthur, Wetzikon, Zug, Zürich and in two prisons Oberschöngrün (canton Solthurn) and Realtà (canton Graubünden). Results In many cases, patients' physical and mental health has improved, their housing situation has become considerably more stable, and they have gradually managed to find employment. Numerous participants have managed to reduce their debts. In most cases, contacts with addicts and the drug scene have decreased. Consumption of non-prescribed substances declined significantly in the course of treatment. Dramatic changes have been seen in the situation regarding crime. While the proportion of patients who obtained their income from illegal or borderline activities at the time of enrollment was 70%, the figure after 18 months of HAT was only 10%. Each year, between 180 and 200 patients discontinue HAT. Of these patients, 35-45% are transferred to methadone maintenance, and 23-27% to abstinence-based treatment. The average costs per patient-day at outpatient treatment centers in 1998 came to CHF 51. The overall economic benefit – based on savings in criminal investigations and prison terms and on improvements in health – was calculated to be CHF 96. After deduction of costs, the net benefit is CHF 45 per patient-day.

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  • TaipeiSteve  |  November 06 2011, 3:40AM

    Swanseajock. Thanks for your reply. I was referring to the system used in Taiwan, not Thailand. Taiwan's laws are very liberal and their jails are very moderate. In fact, the system used in Taiwan is well known in Asia for its modern and innovative approach to criminal reform – the inmates tend gardens, learn drumming etc. The majority of addicts who choose rehab in Taiwan do so because it offers them a chance to get their lives back, not because they are scared of jail. The authorities use the option of jail merely as leverage, because, as stated earlier, it is hard to quit a long term addiction and so a push is sometimes necessary. As I also said in my earlier comment, there needs to be a strong support system in place to help a recovering addict to get back on his feet. Perhaps it would be of more benefit if Week in Week Out also screened stories of people who got clean through stints at rehab. I would be happy to find them ten such people for every one of their Niki. Remember commercial TV thrives on sensationalism, not facts. I fully agree that the drug rehab system currently in place in the UK needs a lot to be desired. As you have mentioned, it tends to keep the person in the cycle of addiction rather than empower them to get their lives back on track. Still, that is no excuse to deny medication that will save a human life, and so I maintain my full support of the use of Naloxone or any other drug that prevents someone from an untimely death. However, I also recommend a totally revamp of the current way of dealing with addiction in this country. It has to be honed at getting people clean and helping them stay clean, not keeping them stuck in the cyclic hell of addiction. Anyway, thanks again for your input. I appreciate your comments.

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  • swanseajock  |  November 05 2011, 9:24PM

    TaipeiSteve, my disagreements in your well structured arguements are 1. In Thailand the threat of jail or rehab is a tought choice. Here prison is not really a deterrent! 2. I see many addicts who have been on Methadone prescriptions for years. What is the point? That opiate substitute is surely to wean them off the Heroin, so why don't they get off it? There are endless agenciies helping them, but there are very few who seem to successfully get rid of their drug habit. An example was shown on Week in Week out last week. Nicki had been 4 months in rehab (no doubt at huge expense), he leaves Birmingham and is straight back on the drug. More tough love and cold turkey, and then resettle the reformed addict away from his/her circle of associates might help. But i can see no answer.

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  • TaipeiSteve  |  November 05 2011, 6:01PM

    Siarad2: Then, surely the obvious solution is to help these people to end their addiction, not let them die. In Taiwan, addicts are given the option of a court case with a possible jail sentence or treatment at a rehab. The vast majority take the latter choice and so the number of life-long addicts is greatly reduced. As a result of this more enlightened policy, it very rare to see an addict or homeless person on the streets of any Taiwanese city. If you are claiming that addicts are criminals because they take illegal drugs, then I fully agree. I sometimes break the legal speed limit when driving (though only marginally) and so can also be classed as a criminal. I hope that you would not likewise deny me life saving medical assistance due to my criminal acts. Gowercitizen: I'm sorry, but any opinion that has been formed about the character of addicts based on the actions of merely one addict is extremely suspect. I have worked on drug projects the world over and, believe me, the majority of addicts actually suffer with lack of self esteem, not over confidence. In addition, I can honestly say that it is the drug that turns the person into a monster, not the monster that becomes a drug addict. As for personal choices, these are greatly diminished once a person becomes an addict. That is why it is called an addiction. With regard a person's unwillingness to quit the bottle or the needle, this is often due to the severe pain and hallucinations associated with withdrawal. In addition, when a person has lived on the streets as an addict for many years, they often lose the skills to interact with society in a normal way. Therefore, without adequate follow-up support they are susceptible relapse. I agree that not every addict will become clean, and sometimes there is nothing we can do other than to watch the person suffer in their hell. Still, I feel that is extremely sad that many people almost gleefully watch their fellow humans suffer with a smug 'they brought it on themselves' attitude. I wonder if they would have the same response to a relative who has developed diabetes 2 or high blood pressure due to an unhealthy diet. Finally, as I said, I have worked on drug projects the world over, and I have seen some of the worst characters become fantastic and decent human beings after kicking the habit. So please, don't give up on your fellow man so easily. Every life is precious, and every addict is someone's son or daughter.

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