Last week, the Minister of State with responsibility for communities and national drug strategy, launched the HSE Naloxone Demonstration Project, in Dublin City. The project aimed at saving lives of people at risk of overdose, by training those likely to witness an opioid overdose in its administration.
In early 2015, when the HSE announced that Limerick would become one of the demonstration sites for their Naloxone Project, McGarry House welcomed this as an opportunity to help prevent overdose deaths both within the service and in the wider community. Naloxone, an antidote that rapidly and temporarily reverses the effects of heroin and other opioids, can preserve life until the person experiencing overdose has access to full medical treatment. It is a vital first aid intervention that has saved countless lives.
The Naloxone Demonstration Project, which aimed to evidence the effectiveness of this intervention, presented a valuable opportunity for the implementation of one of the recommendations of Novas’ Heads Up: Preventing and Responding to Overdose in McGarry House, which was awarded Best Patient Lifestyle Award for at-risk populations, at the Irish Healthcare Awards in 2014.
McGarry House committed to training its staff team in order to equip them to both administer Naloxone and to teach clients how to administer Naloxone should overdoses occur when staff were not present. Training commenced in April and was repeated later in the year with a goal of training as many team members as possible in the event of an overdose occurring.
When Naloxone became available in the autumn, the project liaised closely with the city’s prescribing GP, Dr Patrick O’Donnell, to ensure that as many clients as possible were trained in administering the life-saving drug and had access to it. Prescription could only take place following training. This training involved teaching clients to recognise signs and symptoms of overdose, how to phone an ambulance, the recovery position and CPR as well as Naloxone administration.
By Christmas last year, Naloxone was prescribed to 40 people in Limerick City. Of these, 17 resided in McGarry House, demonstrating the commitment, strength and capability of the service’s clients. Residents reported feeling empowered to help themselves and others. One client said, “People might look at us and think that we are only junkies and good for nothing. I used to believe that. But it’s not true! I saved a life!”
In McGarry House, in a nine month period from October 2015 to June 2016, Naloxone was administered by staff on 12 occasions. This represented the highest number of uses of Naloxone, as part of the Naloxone Project, in any drugs or residential service in Ireland. Staff reported feeling better equipped to respond to overdose. One staff member stated, “Before, every minute waiting for the ambulance was excruciating. Now, we call the Ambulance and follow our Naloxone procedure. We know that we are doing all we can do and that is reassuring.”