With the Highest Drug Death Rate in Europe, Scotland Gives Naloxone to All Police Officers

By  //  August 25, 2022

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In an effort to tackle Scotland’s devastating drug problem, all police officers will be supplied with naloxone, a medication which can reverse the effects of a drug overdose.

A 2021 pilot saw police officers trained in using the medication in areas including Dundee and Glasgow – the cities with the highest drug death rates of all local authority areas in Scotland. The success of this pilot has resulted in a country-wide roll out.

This news comes shortly after the latest statistics on drug use in Scotland were released. Research found that 1,330 people died of drug misuse in 2021, 1% down from the 1,339 people who died in 2020 – the second highest figure ever to be recorded.

Paul Spanjar, an experienced substance abuse counsellor and director of the Providence Projects in Bournemouth welcomes the move, but believes more needs to be done to tackle the addiction crisis in Scotland. 

“Preventing drug overdose and death treats the symptom of the problem, but real change needs to start in the family home”. 

What is Naloxone? 

Naloxone is a drug which has the ability to reverse the effects of opioids, including heroin, opium, codeine, morphine, methadone, and buprenorphine. Naloxone’s use is limited to opioid overdoses and it doesn’t have any effect on overdoses caused by other substances.

Naloxone is an easily administered substance, coming in two forms. You can find it as a pre-filled syringe or a nasal spray. The drug tends to take under 5 minutes to take effect, and will typically last between 20 and 40 minutes.

It is absolutely vital that you alert a medical professional when you administer naloxone as after the effects wear off, the individual will fall back into the overdose without further medical attention.

Pilot Scheme

The 2021 pilot scheme saw 808 police officers in Glasgow, Falkirk, Stirling, Dundee and Caithness trained in using Naloxone, following which 656 of these officers agreed to carry the nasal spray kits while on duty.

A study by Edinburgh Napier University looked at this pilot and found that in the period between March and October, the kits had been used a total of 51 times.

With the upcoming roll out, the entirety of Scotland’s police force – over 12,000 officers – will be trained in using the drug. It’s hoped this will reduce the devastatingly high number of deaths attributed to overdose across the country. 

Following the pilot scheme, evaluation was carried out to assess the success of the scheme through the officers’ experiences. Approximately 350 police officers gave written feedback, and 41 took part in interviews and focus groups. 

The results of this feedback found that the majority of police officers were in favour of this scheme and the roll out of it across the country. Thirteen of these forty-one interviewees had used naloxone during the pilot, and some officers had used the drug multiple times. Officers tended to evaluate the pilot well and showed support for this ‘life saving’ drug.

Moreover, feedback was gathered through interviews with individuals who actively take drugs, their family and friends, health care providers, and support workers. 

Other Approaches in Tackling Drug Deaths

During evaluation on the use of this anti-overdose drug, individuals and collective bodies reported they were supportive of the pilot as part of a collective of initiatives to battle the drug deaths crisis.

It is clear that the toll of drug deaths is catastrophic and there is no quick fix solution. There have been a number of other proposals put forward which could be introduced in combination with this roll out.

Decriminalisation is a method which has been used with varying degrees of success in other countries. Portugal decriminalised drugs in 2001, following which the country’s opioid crisis diminished.

In the years after, there was a significant decrease in problem drug use, drug-related infection rates, overdose deaths, as well as crimes and prison sentences related to drugs. 

Drug consumption rooms have also been used in Europe for a number of years, offering safe spaces for individuals to use drugs in a more secure setting.

Drug consumption rooms are places where people can go and be offered clean needles, counselling before and after drug use, medical assistance in the case of overdose, medical and psychological care, and referrals to further services.

This method has proved effective in Spain, Switzerland, Canada, and Australia by lowering the risks of disease through infected needles and overdose. These services also decrease drug use in public spaces. 

Heroin-assisted treatment programmes were initially introduced in Switzerland over thirty years ago, since which a number of countries have piloted these schemes.

Heroin-assisted treatment sees a number of physical and psychological improvements for the user and those around them. 

Removing the illicit nature of use greatly reduces the stigma around substance misuse, as well as restricting the substance to its pure form.

One of the major risks to life in regards to drug use is ingesting substances which contain unknown ingredients. Scotland has begun trialling these initiatives, with the first scheme launched in Glasgow in 2019.

De-stigmatisation is a central part of these strategies. Currently, drug users across Scotland tend to be stigmatised by society at large, including institutions. Often individuals who experience addiction are reduced to their dependency and this impacts their access to healthcare, employment, social life, and psychological support.

Incorporating a compassionate care system which recognises the complexities of addiction could increase people’s chances of receiving – and benefiting – from care.

Additionally, friends and family members may be further impacted by the stigma around drug use, inhibiting their access to support at a pivotal time.