The Drug Foundation is calling on the Government to urgently make it easier for New Zealanders to freely access a lifesaving opioid overdose reversal medication, so the country is prepared in the face of a future fentanyl crisis.
Drug Foundation Executive Director, Sarah Helm, says that the Government needs to set up a scheme that circumvents the current Medsafe and Pharmac process, which is acting as a barrier for accessing naloxone and is putting New Zealanders at risk.
“The Government needs to act now and ensure funding and distribution of naloxone, so it gets into the hands of all first responders and people who use drugs,” Helm says.
“We can’t let the red tape of our health system be the reason people can’t access this lifesaving drug in a crisis. Australia has a take home scheme that has circumvented similar barriers, and now offers naloxone free without a prescription to anyone who might experience or witness an opioid overdose, following a successful pilot. We need the same to happen here.”
The call for more action comes off the back of the Drug Foundation applying to the Medicines Classifications Committee (MCC) for a rule change that would increase the availability and accessibility of naloxone.
"We asked for take-home, over-the-counter naloxone for all forms of naloxone, with no requirement for a prescription. Instead the committee have recommended a lesser option, which does allow the ampules to be distributed without a prescription - but only by organisations and healthcare providers that are already legally able to give out needles.
“It’s great that we’ve removed one tiny bit of red tape from the mountain that’s standing in the way of naloxone,” she says, “but this is not nearly enough.”
“This change won't help us get naloxone into the hands of the large group of people who are vulnerable to a fentanyl outbreak. We need the Government to step in now.”
NZ Needle Exchange Programme National Operations Manager, Philippa Jones, says while she is pleased that needle exchanges will be able to distribute naloxone, she would like to see more funding for it.
“We have national coverage and stigma-free relationships with clients to ensure this vital life-saving product gets to the people who need it most.”
On average there are 46 opioid overdose deaths in Aotearoa each year, but the Drug Foundation says the risk is far greater, with the possibility of fentanyl entering the drug supply as was seen in Wairarapa last month. Last year alone, an estimated 80,000 people died from opioid overdoses in the USA, which is in the grips of a fentanyl crisis.
Notes to editors:
Survey participants also reported that barriers to accessing services, resources and information were high.
A group of powerful synthetic opioids that were first detected in the country just a year ago may have already been linked to several deaths.
95% of respondents reported positive effects, in a study that looked at both prescription and black market cannabis use.