Curbing the shire’s overdose rates

Penington Institute workforce development officer Keith Bhebhe (right) teaches Central Gippsland Health’s consumer advocate Allen Murray how to administer naloxone.

Penington Institute workforce development officer Keith Bhebhe (right) teaches Central Gippsland Health’s consumer advocate Allen Murray how to administer naloxone.

A TRAINING session on how to respond administer an opioid reversal medication was held in Sale last week to address the rapidly increasing ambulance attendances for overdoses in the Wellington Shire.

The recently released Australian Annual Overdose Report revealed there were 17 accidental overdose deaths in the Wellington Shire from 2011 to 2015.

Since 2011, the number of ambulance attendances for illegal drugs has nearly tripled from 17 callouts across the shire to 50 in 2015, and has grown from 66 in 2011 to 120 in 2015 for all pharmaceutical medications.

The report also found regional communities were far more likely to overdose on opioids such as codeine and oxycodone than other drugs.

The training seminar, held by independent health organisation the Penington Institute, allowed Sale's health care professionals to gain insight on how to engage with their patients to prevent, recognise and respond to opioid overdoses, using opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone.

Project lead Crios O'Mahony said while naloxone was not a new drug, it had only been available for the Australian community for the last three years.

"The Victorian government has a thing called the Naloxone Subsidy Initiative, which is trying to promote naloxone across the state so people can get it," he said.

Mr O'Mahony said naloxone only temporarily reversed opioid overdoses, which was useful in situations involving drugs such as methadone and heroin, as well as pharmaceutical opioid painkillers such as codeine, oxycodone, fentanyl and morphine.

"It temporarily removes them from the receptors in your brain so you can breathe again, and it buys you time for an ambulance to turn up," he said.

Mr O'Mahony said the first step for health professionals was attempting to identify who was at risk of overdose, which is anyone who uses opioid drugs whatsoever.

"Whether they're getting them on prescription, or whether they're going to the needle and syringe program," he said.

"[Health professionals must] explain to them about the risk of overdose with some of these drugs, and explain to them how naloxone works, how they can possibly prevent overdose in the first place, how to keep track of their medicines, make sure they're not doubling up on medicines because they've forgotten to take something in the morning and they've taken two in the afternoon."

"It's also for anyone who's using illicit drugs- that could also be prescription medicine that isn't their prescription.

Mr O'Mahony said the vast majority of overdoses in Australia did not involve drugs like heroine, but prescription medication.

"We often talk about ice in the press, and I can understand that, but really this is something massive," he said.

Gippsland Senior
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