Access to the anti-opiate-overdose drug naloxone in Tasmania is falling behind other states and territories, despite the state recording the highest per capita opiate prescriptions and high accidental overdose rates.
The Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Council Tasmania is calling on the government to follow the lead of other states in establishing a trial for the drug to be distributed through needle exchange programs before extending it to community health providers and the justice system.
Interstate trials have proven the effectiveness of naloxone during overdose situations by blocking opiate receptors in the nervous system. It comes in a nasal spray or a syringe.
Naloxone can only be distributed through pharmacies in Tasmania due to the Poisons Act, but few stock it due to a lack of awareness of the drug in the wider community, meaning there is no demand.
ATCD Tasmania chief executive Alison Lai said accidental opiate overdose was a "silent killer" in Tasmania claiming on average one life per week, but it was preventable.
"People seem to associate overdose with illicit drugs like heroin, but in 2020, that's no longer the case," she said.
"People could be using prescription drugs like benzodiazepines or opiate medications and they may use alcohol as well, heightening the overdose risk. Men in their 40s and up appear most at risk.
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"In Victoria, you could turn up to your chemist or community health provider and receive take-home dosages. In Tasmania, we don't have that flexibility."
Without a prescription, naloxone can cost up to $70. ATDC Tasmania hopes that it could be offered for free through needle syringe programs.
A Tasmanian Government spokesperson said they would monitor the progress of these trials before making any decisions.
"The Department of Health is assessing the merits of improving access to naloxone in Tasmania and will be informed by the findings of current national pilot programs, while also considering the needs and circumstances on Tasmania," he said.