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PSNI saves three lives in early months of Naloxone project which can reverse drug overdoses

Naloxone has reversed 598 opiate overdoses in NI since 2014

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A Naloxone intra-nasal spray (PA)

A Naloxone intra-nasal spray (PA)

A Naloxone intra-nasal spray (PA)

The PSNI has saved three lives in Belfast through a pilot scheme in which it has issued some officers with medicine that can reverse certain forms of drug overdoses.

Police in Northern Ireland are following a number of other UK forces who are using Naloxone, which is administered via a nasal spray device and can be legally given by anyone.

It can help undo the results of opioid drugs like methadone and heroin, and has successfully reversed 598 opiate overdoses in NI since April 2014, according to data from the Public Health Agency.

However, the Police Federation’s NI chairman Mark Lindsay is sceptical of the initiative, saying “officers are not medics, and while they will do everything to save lives, they should not be expected to ‘lift the slack’ because of gaps in other public services”.

“This isn’t an issue of trying to save someone’s life. It’s what happens whenever it goes wrong, and perhaps someone dies,” Mr Lindsay said. 

"In that situation, the individual officer is left in the invidious position of being investigated, perhaps for many years, with the possibility of being reported for prosecution.

“There are significant risks that must be addressed. We are police officers first and foremost. We’re not medics.

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“It is also an example of the police covering shortcomings in other public services. We don’t think a trial should be taking place. We don’t think officers should be placed in that position.

“However, I am aware that the frontline officers who come across this on a daily basis want to do their best to save lives, so we will continue to work with them and the service to ensure that a strong and workable solution to opioid overdosing is found.”

Overall to date, 17 patrol officers throughout Belfast city centre volunteered for the Naloxone pilot, in which they have been provided with the medication, along with one-day training on how and when to use it.

The project will run until March and will then be evaluated for a possible wider distribution.

Belfast SDLP councillor Paul McCusker has helped heroin addicts using Naloxone intervention before, and said that if police “can step in at that critical moment, when a person has overdosed, that is to be welcomed".

Official statistics from NISRA show that in the last two decades, there has been a substantial increase in drug-related deaths in Northern Ireland, particularly in Belfast.

The latest data from 2018 reveals that 61% of drug-related deaths involved opioids, including heroin, morphine and tramadol.

"It is sadly a side effect of drug addiction that people will overdose," said Supt Gillian Kearney.

"This gives officers the opportunity to make an intervention when there is not an immediate response from the ambulance service when they are under pressure."

She added that officers already carried first aid kits and Naloxone was simply an extra item within it.

Police and health officials noted there are no risks in giving the medication, but it buys an overdose victim valuable time until paramedics can arrive.

In 2020, people survived on 91% of occasions when it was used by paramedics and healthcare workers.


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