The distribution of naloxone to heroin users

Addiction. 1997 Sep;92(9):1195-9.


Overdose deaths are a major contributor to excess mortality among heroin users. It has been proposed that opioid overdose morbidity and mortality could be reduced substantially by distributing the opioid antagonist naloxone to heroin users. The ethical issues raised by this proposal are evaluated from a utilitarian perspective. The potential advantages of naloxone distribution include the increased chance of comatose opioid users being quickly resuscitated by others present at the time of an overdose, naloxone's safety and its lack of abuse potential. The main problems raised by the proposal are: the medico-legal complications of medical practitioners prescribing a drug that is most likely to be administered to and by people other than the one for whom it is prescribed; the economic costs of distributing naloxone sufficiently widely to have an impact on overdose morbidity and mortality; and the potentially greater cost-effectiveness of simpler educational interventions. Given the possible benefits of naloxone distribution, it may be worthwhile considering a controlled trial of naloxone distribution to high-risk heroin users.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making
  • Drug Costs
  • Drug Overdose / prevention & control
  • Heroin / poisoning
  • Heroin Dependence / rehabilitation*
  • Humans
  • Naloxone / economics
  • Naloxone / therapeutic use*
  • Narcotic Antagonists / economics
  • Narcotic Antagonists / therapeutic use*


  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Naloxone
  • Heroin