Aims: Before proceeding with the introduction of an overdose fatality prevention programme including teaching in cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and distribution of naloxone, a pre-launch study of treatment and community samples of injecting drug misusers has been undertaken to establish (i) the extent of witnessing overdoses, (ii) the acceptability of naloxone distribution and training; and (iii) the likely impact of such measures.
Design and setting: Structured interview of two samples: (a) a community sample of injecting drug misusers recruited by selected privileged access interviewers (PAI) and interviewed by them in community settings and (b) a treatment sample of opiate addicts recruited from our methadone maintenance clinic (interviewed by in-house research staff).
Participants: (a) Three hundred and twelve injecting drug misusers with a history of having injected and currently still using injectable drugs; and (b) 142 opiate addicts in treatment at our local catchment area methadone maintenance clinic in South London.
Findings: History of personal overdose was found with 38% of the community sample and 55% of the treatment sample--mainly involving opiates and in the company of friends. Most (54% and 92%, respectively) had witnessed at least one overdose (again mostly involving opiates), of whom a third had witnessed a fatal overdose. Only a few (35%) already knew of the existence and effects of naloxone. After explanation to the treatment sample, 70% considered naloxone distribution to be a good proposal. Of the 13% opposed to the proposal, half thought it may lead them to use more drugs. Eighty-nine per cent of those who had witnessed an overdose fatality would have administered naloxone if it had been available. We estimate that at least two-thirds of witnessed overdose fatalities could be prevented by administration of home-based supplies of naloxone.
Conclusions: Substantial proportions of both community and treatment samples of drug misusers have witnessed an overdose death which could have been prevented through prior training in resuscitation techniques and administration of home-based supplies of naloxone. Such a new approach would be supported by most drug misusers. On the basis of these findings, we conclude that it is appropriate to proceed to a carefully constructed trial of naloxone distribution.