Pharmacists have welcomed the possibility that drug overdose medicine naloxone may be made available in community pharmacies without a prescription, while also calling for more support to make the service feasible.
A consultation was launched by the Government earlier this week (2 August) on making the drug available in several community settings where overdoses are likely to take place, including pharmacies.
Naloxone is currently only available in England and Wales on prescription and can be administered by anyone during an emergency.
The new proposals would mean pharmacists would be able to supply naloxone without needing a prescription.
This comes as new figures show drug deaths and poisoning in England and Wales have reached a record high, with a growing number of people dying after using opiates.
A total of 4,561 people died after taking drugs in 2020, which is almost 4% higher than figures for 2019 and is the highest number since records began in 1993.
Approximately half of all the deaths from drug poisoning in 2020 involved opioids such as methadone or heroin, the data also revealed.
Darren Powell, clinical lead at NHS Digital and relief pharmacist manager at Weldrick Pharmacy,
‘I think it’s an excellent idea, especially in light of the damning statistics of drug deaths we’ve just been updated with.
‘Currently, needle exchange services in pharmacies have the legal authority to supply and that seems a great place to start, but substance misuse provision isn’t always co-located with needle exchange – so perhaps we should be using those sites as well.
‘This has been talked about for a long time, perhaps now we can see some development in this area,’ he suggested.
Similarly, Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp),
Meanwhile, Sunil Kochhar, consultant pharmacist and IP at Regent Pharmacy in Gravesend, welcomed the consultation. However, he called for more funding to be made available to pharmacists so they can provide the service safely.
‘GP, practices, secondary care, police officers and nurses all get protected learning time, which means they can keep up to date with new information because they have the time available each week where they can sit down and do that additional learning.
‘In community pharmacy, we get no protected learning time. Instead, we fit this additional learning in around everything else we do,’ he explained.
He also said: ‘Putting Naloxone kits in pharmacies makes sense and of course pharmacy teams are ready to take on that responsibility and extra duty of care. Not only are we perfectly situated in the community but we are drug experts and are also trained to take on and deal with issues like this.
‘However, if that responsibility is coming to us then we must urge to be given protected learning time just like the others, so we can give the same level of patient care with the demands that are being put on us.’
Naloxone is currently freely available at all pharmacies in Edinburgh that deliver injecting equipment provision services.
However, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) in Scotland has previously called for naloxone to be made available in every pharmacy across Scotland, and for all pharmacy staff to be trained in using it.
The recommendation came as part of RPS’s new policy document— published last month — which addresses pharmacy’s role in reducing drug harms and preventing drug deaths in Scotland.
New data has shown that a record number of 1,339 people in Scotland died last year from drug misuse.
In response, RPS in Scotland has called on the Government and the pharmacy sector to work together to reduce drug harm in the country.