Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians will be allowed to supply naloxone, which can reverse an opioid overdose, without a prescription.

The government has announced that it will update legislation ‘over the course of this year’ to include ‘pharmacy professionals’ among named services and professionals able to supply naloxone without a prescription.

This follows a consultation on proposals that received ‘overwhelming support’.

Other professionals and organisations not currently named in the legislation will also be able to register to be able to supply naloxone, subject to appropriate training and safeguards.

Currently, only drug and alcohol treatment services can supply naloxone to individuals at risk of an overdose to take away for future use.

It can then be administered by anyone in the case of an emergency.

But the government said it wanted ‘people who are at risk of an overdose, or who know someone at risk of an overdose, to be able to access take-home naloxone as quickly and easily as possible’.

Following its consultation, the government said it intends to proceed with its plans to amend the Human Medicines Regulations 2012 with a list of certain services and professions exempt from the prescription-only requirements relating to the supply of naloxone.

The named services and professionals are:

  • drug and alcohol treatment services (who already have this power)
  • medical services of the armed forces
  • police forces, including drug treatment workers commissioned to work in these settings
  • prison staff
  • probation officers
  • registered midwives
  • registered nurses
  • registered pharmacy professionals
  • registered paramedics

They will be able to supply naloxone but will not be required to do so.

And new services and professionals taking on this role must complete mandatory training, including around storing and supplying naloxone, and how to support a person being supplied with naloxone.

The government’s consultation outcome, published this week, added: ‘Responses to this consultation demonstrated overwhelming support for allowing more organisations and individuals to supply take-home naloxone. There is consensus across respondents from many sectors, organisations and individuals that widening access to naloxone will save lives.

‘On this basis, the UK Government and devolved administrations will continue to bring forward the legislative changes outlined in the consultation. We aim to enact these changes over the course of this year, subject to parliamentary scrutiny in the UK Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly. We have engaged and consulted across the UK throughout this process and will continue to do this during the implementation and delivery of proposals.’

In Scotland, a national naloxone service means all community pharmacies now hold an emergency supply of naloxone to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

Drug and addiction services encouraged to link with local pharmacists

The government also announced a workforce plan for drug and addiction services, suggesting that it wanted to attract more regulated professionals, including pharmacists, into the sector.

‘The expansion of regulated professions will help to strengthen clinical governance structures and clinical supervision provision,’ the plan said.

It added that stakeholders had reported that ‘pharmacists and pharmacy technicians are an essential element of the drug and alcohol treatment and recovery workforce, yet are overlooked and lacking in numbers’, with just 22 specialist pharmacy professionals currently working in the sector.

The ‘necessary skills and expert knowledge of medicines and health’ that pharmacists could offer the drug and alcohol treatment and recovery sector included ‘medication dispensing; expertise in handling and storing controlled drugs; prescribing and guidance/supervision for other prescribers; and expert policy development’, the plan said.

And they ‘also have expertise in offering direct healthcare advice to a population of people with significantly poorer health outcomes compared with the general population’, the plan added, highlighting that this was particularly important since people who use or had used drugs and / or alcohol might be less likely to attend their GP practice.

The scope of the workforce plan only covered those directly employed by drug and addiction services, but it suggested that service providers who do not employ pharmacy professionals as part of their workforce ‘should consider seeking sessional input or ad hoc expertise and advice from a pharmacist to enhance the MDT [multi-disciplinary team] approach in their service’.

‘Making links with local pharmacists with wider expertise and experience can support this,’ the plan said.