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Shining a light for International Overdose Awareness Day

Maudsley Hospital and King’s College London’s National Addiction Centre were lit up to mark International Overdose Awareness Day, a global event held on 31st August each year to raise awareness of overdoses, reduce the stigma of drug-related deaths and acknowledge the grief felt by families and friends. 

Maudsley overdose awarenessSouth London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust together with the National Addiction Centre at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London, and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre are world-leaders in research on prevention of overdose deaths.

Their proposal for the introduction of Take-Home Naloxone, an emergency antidote to opiate overdose, to reduce heroin overdose death is a key example of this ongoing commitment to research and care.

Now, 25 years later, pharmacists and nurses at the Trust are piloting a project to support people in contact with the NHS’s wide range of treatment services in the community and inpatients on mental health units to take naloxone home following discharge – a service previously only been provided from within our addiction treatment services.

Mental health nurses across the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust are being trained to improve their awareness and knowledge of opioid drugs, recognising the signs, symptoms and risk factors of opioid overdose. This will also involve a ‘train the trainers’ approach, where nurses will train people who use these services, and their carers, to use Take-Home Naloxone when need arises. 

Researchers from King’s College London and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust have been central to the continuing development of Take-Home Naloxone, forming the basis for creating a nasal spray form of naloxone and enabling increased uptake through informing and evaluating training approaches.

Sir Norman Lamb, Chair of South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, said:

We are proud to support International Overdose Awareness Day and help to reduce the stigma surrounding drug-related deaths. 

It is wholly tragic, and unacceptable, that many of these deaths are preventable. I am pleased we are pioneering a new approach to support people who use our services and to keep people as safe as possible.

Prof Sir John Strang, Director of the National Addiction Centre of King’s College London and theme lead for substance use and harms at the NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre, said:

It is crucial that we bring the best of the NHS and the best of British university minds together to tackle this problem of opioid overdose deaths. Every year, globally, more than 100,000 people die from opioid overdose, and yet we have an effective antidote, naloxone, which can be given by injection or by nasal spray, and which reverses the overdose within a few minutes.

There is still a huge amount of stigma surrounding overdose deaths and this needs to be removed so we can introduce effective treatments and reduce the growing number of lives ended tragically early from overdose of heroin or other opioids. Crucially this needs public recognition, clinical implementation and government backing if lives are to be saved.

Martin McCusker, Lambeth Service User Council, said:

On International Overdose Awareness Day, it is really important to remember that behind every drug-related death statistic is a person who loved and was loved, who was someone’s son, daughter, mother or father.  

Most accidental overdoses are entirely preventable. We need to raise awareness around what overdose looks like from all substances, and support people to understand how to help in the event of an overdose. 

We must tackle stigma and challenge perceptions around overdose – whether this is on illicit or prescribed substances - and ensure drug policy supports and reflects this.

Researchers at the National Addiction Centre are currently leading a European research study across six countries investigating actual overdose management efforts by service users and family members.