Anti-overdose medication training aims to protect drug users

Short classes teach how to administer Naloxone to opiate takers in Covid-19 context

It can be “especially difficult” for drug users to remain indoors when they need to access drugs daily.  Photograph: Cyril Byrne

It can be “especially difficult” for drug users to remain indoors when they need to access drugs daily. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Drug users in Dublin are being trained to administer an anti-overdose medication in a bid to minimise drug-related deaths during the coronavirus outbreak.

Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI), the largest voluntary drug treatment service in the State, is providing truncated classes to drug users in how to administer Naloxone, which blocks the effects of opiates.

While training usually takes up to 30 minutes, five-minute sessions which respect social distancing measures, are being taken up by about five people a day at MQI’s Dublin premises.

The condensed classes are regarded as necessary amid serious concerns for drug users’ lives during the pandemic.

Service providers ,including MQI, the Saol project which works with women in addiction in Dublin and the Citywide campaign, have warned they expect relapses and deaths among drug users in coming weeks.

Lockdown risks

On Tuesday, the Health Service Executive warned the risk of overdose was increased as drugs may be stronger and access to additional supports reduced during the lockdown.

It is aiming to maximise the number of drug users on opioid replacement (methadone) therapy – a substitute for heroin and, in some cases, crack or cocaine. It is not a useful substitute, however, for cannabis or prescription drugs.

In the south Dublin city and county area, an extra 50 people have signed up for methadone treatment in the past fortnight, according to the HSE. More than 10,000 people are on such treatment nationally.

“Addiction does not stop during a pandemic,” Minister for Health Simon Harris said on Tuesday. “If anything, it can become more of a problem for many and its impacts can be much more confined.

“I am conscious that those living with addiction are among our most vulnerable in society and we must ensure we wrap supports around them.”

Drugs and isolation

He said it could be “especially difficult” for drug users to remain indoors when they needed to access drugs daily.

“I want to assure people that supports are available for families through the national family support network and local services. Mental health supports are also available.”

The HSE is distributing information posters to services, advising users during the crisis to: “Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds – before and after you handle, prepare or take drugs;

“Use alcohol wipes on surfaces where you prepare drugs; If you are snorting drugs, crush as finely as possible before use, to reduce the risk of nasal damage/bleeding; Use an unused straw, rolled up post-it or clean piece of paper; Look after yourself and look out for others.”

In a statement, the HSE said : “Drug services continue to be available for people who use drugs, either through telephone or video connections. Access to clean syringes and needles is also being provided. It is important that service users stay in touch during this difficult time.”