More heroin users in Fife are being urged to help themselves in the event of an overdose as authorities try to halt a worrying rise in drug deaths across the region.
Plans are being drawn up to ensure that take-home naloxone kits, which can reverse the effects of a potentially fatal opioid overdose, are stocked in pharmacies in Fife in a bid to expand the number of places they are available.
The Fife Alcohol and Drug Partnership (ADP) is also trying to target those deemed to be at highest risk of a drug overdose by holding a series of awareness and naloxone distribution events at venues such as Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court over the coming months.
The drive comes as figures revealed that the number of drug deaths in Fife is at its highest level for almost a decade, with 31 people dead in the Kingdom in 2015.
Sean McCollum, who chairs the Fife ADP, said the figures represented a “stark reminder” of how important the group’s work is.
“Every one of these deaths represents an avoidable tragedy,” he said.
“Such a loss of life is unacceptable and it is up to us all, across the Fife Alcohol and Drug Partnership, to redouble our already substantial efforts to reduce the number of drug related deaths in Fife.
“Since I became chair last year, the Alcohol and Drug Partnership has funded and made an additional 840 naloxone kits available to services to enable them to distribute directly to at risk substance users.
“Changes to legislation in October 2015, means that that alcohol and drug voluntary services can distribute directly to at risk substance users.
“Fife has capitalised on this significant change and there are now four third-sector services involved in naloxone distribution alongside our NHS partners.”
Mr McCollum added that it is difficult to establish the number of kits which have been used in an overdose situation, although agencies have advised that 56 were resupplied due to usage last year.
“The total number used may well exceed this and we are looking at ways to better capture this information,” he said.
Work has also started with the Scottish Ambulance Service to develop a mechanism to allow services to follow up and intervene with individuals following a non-fatal overdose.
This will involve offering additional naloxone and overdose awareness training.
Gareth Balmer, service manager at Leven-based Addaction, said his organisation was one of the first non-NHS services in the UK to provide life-saving medication to clients, and has welcomed the direction of travel.
He continued: “Addaction are proud to take part in a programme that helps to give those individuals and families suffering from serious drug problems the chance to save their own lives should they suffer from an opiate overdose.”
The rise in drug deaths has been highlighted by Councillor Tim Brett, who said the latest figures painted a “bleak picture” of the drug death situation in Fife.
“The figures represent both an individual tragedy for the family concerned and also reflect on local communities where these occur,” he commented.
“Drug deaths are often hidden from the wider community and do not get discussed as would other accidental deaths.
“Most are single and live alone, though reporting a close relationship with family and friends.
“A total of 71% of the deaths occurred in the presence of others, often with witnesses checking on the deceased assuming that they were asleep.
“Those witnesses who called an ambulance for the deceased would generally attempt CPR but not administer naloxone.
“As one might expect, many of the drug deaths occur in the most deprived parts of Fife but nevertheless we should be looking in detail at what might be done to try and reduce this number in future.
“Attempting to support drug users is challenging but we must look at every opportunity to try and prevent such deaths, as these individuals are still part of somebody’s family.”