Skip to main content

Study: overdose-reversal-drug program saves lives

Opioid overdose deaths have been steadily rising since 2007, with the most recent confirmed data indicating that 564 Australians aged 15-54 years died of an overdose in 2012.  An evaluation of Western Australia’s first take-home naloxone program, in which drug users and their peers are taught how to manage opioid overdose situations, and are provided with the overdose-reversal drug naloxone, has found that the program saves lives and should be continued and expanded.


An evaluation of Western Australia’s first take-home naloxone program has found it saves lives.
An evaluation of Western Australia’s first take-home naloxone program has found it saves lives.

The research, conducted by the National Drug Research Institute (NDRI), evaluated the WA Peer Naloxone Project, which was run between January 2013 and May 2015 by the Western Australian Substance Users’ Association (WASUA) in collaboration with the Mental Health Commission.

NDRI’s Director, Professor Simon Lenton, said the evaluation found that the program’s 153 participants substantially increased their knowledge about how to recognise and respond to an opioid overdose, and that this was evident in subsequent overdose situations where program participants helped to revive an overdose victim.

Professor Lenton said that during the evaluation period, 32 opioid overdose reversals using peer-administered naloxone were reported by program participants, and in all of these cases the person survived the overdose.

“Our findings overwhelmingly support the continuation and expansion of the WA Peer Naloxone Project. The program has been proven to provide participants with the necessary knowledge and skills to manage an overdose situation, including the administration of naloxone, which has undoubtedly led to many lives being saved,” said Professor Lenton.

Mr Paul Dessauer, Outreach Coordinator at WASUA, said he was pleased that the evaluation supported continuing and expanding the peer naloxone program. He said that the program was crucial to saving lives because, even though family and friends might be around, people often don’t recognise an overdose is taking place, or don’t know how to respond.

“By continuing to provide overdose training and naloxone to opioid users, their peers and family members who might be present or nearby when an overdose occurs, needless deaths and other harm (such as acquired brain injury) can be prevented,” said Mr Dessauer.

Although opioid overdose deaths fell dramatically after the ‘heroin drought’ of late 2000, deaths have been steadily rising since 2007 although they declined slightly in 2012. The most recent confirmed data indicate that 564 Australians aged 15-54 years died of an overdose in 2012 (4.47 deaths per 100 000 population) and 90 in WA (6.44 deaths per 100 000 population). Projections for 2013 and 2014 suggest deaths will continue upwards.