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How increasing take-home drug treatments can boost employee wellbeing

The UK government has announced that professionals in the UK will now be able to provide take-home opioid overdose treatments without a prescription. These professionals include police officers, probation workers, paramedics, nurses and other relevant parties.

This decision aims to get the essential opioid overdose antidote naloxone to the most vulnerable drug users to counter the effects of overdoses and reduce opioid-related drug deaths. In 2022, opioids caused 73% of drug deaths in England, 60% in Wales, 82% in Scotland, and 60% in Northern Ireland.

 What is naloxone and how does it work?

Naloxone is a medication that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. In the UK, this treatment is available under the Prenoxad and Nyxoid brand names and has been issued as a take-home emergency medicine since 2015.

Opioids, such as fentanyl, heroin, morphine and codeine, act on certain neuroreceptors. Among other effects, an opioid overdose causes respiratory distress manifesting as slow or shallow breathing.

Naloxone, as an opioid antagonist, attaches to opioid receptors, reverses the effects of the drugs, and quickly restores normal respiration. Notably, naloxone only works when opioids are present in a person’s system and it is not a treatment for opioid misuse. It only reverses the adverse physiological reactions associated with an overdose.

This treatment can be administered as a nasal spray or injection. Studies show that both methods of administration are effective.

Steps to authorise the provision of take-home naloxone without a prescription

The UK government will now amend legislation to authorise relevant professionals to provide take-home naloxone without a prescription. Once completed, these professionals will be able to give the treatment to family members, friends or persons using opioids.

Outreach workers associated with residential drug treatment centres or safe injection sites will also be able to supply this treatment. Should this availability and provision extend to workplaces, employers can help make a difference in decreasing opioid-based overdose fatalities.

To realise this, the UK government made an additional £532m available as part of its 10-year drug treatment scheme. The funding will also go towards the appointment of additional workers in law enforcement and healthcare spheres.

Benefits of naloxone availability in the workplace

Workplace drug testing programmes empower employers to identify and reach out to workers who use or misuse drugs. Through these on-site or laboratory screenings, it is possible to pinpoint relevant drug types.

Should these tests be positive for opioids, the availability of naloxone helps employers mitigate the risks of on-site opioid overdoses and possibly save lives. Drug testing and naloxone availability may also encourage employees to come forward and disclose their opioid addiction problems.

It is easy to train employers and first-aiders in the administration of this opioid antagonist. This initial emergency step can stabilise a patient until an ambulance arrives.

Naloxone availability shifts the focus from punishment to one of empathy and wellbeing. Partner with workplace drug testing experts to explore legislative requirements and workplace drug testing solutions.

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