Life-saving medicine pilot extended


Pharmacist talking with patient

The Australian Government’s Take Home Naloxone pilot program is being extended to 30 June 2022. The pilot, which has been running since December 2019 in partnership with state health agencies in NSW, SA and WA, works toward preventing opioid-induced harm and death.

According to the Australian Government’s Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, in just 10 years opioid-related overdose deaths have risen by 62 per cent in Australia.

When an opioid overdose happens, a person’s breathing slows down or completely stops, leading to rapid loss of consciousness and potentially death if help is not given in time. Naloxone is a medicine that works by binding to the opioid receptors in the brain, blocking the effects of opioids. If administered in time, naloxone can temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, enabling the person to breathe normally while waiting for an Ambulance to arrive.

Through the take home naloxone pilot anyone in NSW, SA or WA can access naloxone for free and without a prescription, if they are at risk of an opioid overdose, or may witness an overdose (family, friends, carers or community members).

The Australian Government also continues to fund naloxone on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) which is available via prescription as per standard PBS arrangements. For people in states and territories that are not participating in the pilot, naloxone supply options include getting a prescription for naloxone from your doctor, purchasing naloxone over the counter at a community pharmacy, or accessing the medicine through a local take home naloxone program if available in your jurisdiction.

Asking for naloxone

Naloxone is available through participating local pharmacies, as well as at Needle and Syringe Program sites. It comes in a nasal spray or pre-filled syringe, making it very safe and easy for non-medically trained people to administer. Naloxone has no effect on a person who is not using opioids. You cannot get 'high' from taking the medicine.

Accessing naloxone is easy and confidential. Contact one of the listed pharmacies or visit them in person and ask for 'take home naloxone'. When you are supplied with the medicine the pharmacist will tell you about naloxone, how to use it and give you a quick and easy-to-follow instruction sheet to keep.

The pharmacist does not record your name, or any other personal information such as your date of birth or Medicare card details. The pharmacist will take note of which type of naloxone was supplied, how many units and the date.

To help with the evaluation of the pilot program, the pharmacist will ask if you consent to answering de-identified or anonymous questions, these include: your gender, whether you are at risk of experiencing an opioid overdose or at risk of witnessing one, the type of opioid you are likely to be exposed to (i.e. prescribed, other source, witness only), if this is an 'initial supply' or 'refill', and confirmation that you received instructions on how to use naloxone from your pharmacist. These questions will only be asked if you consent. You can still access naloxone if you do not consent to this information being collected.

As part of the evaluation there are also optional questions such as your age range, postcode, other medications / substances and reason for the refill (if applicable).

The anonymous responses to these questions are submitted to the pilot evaluation team at the Institute for Social Science Research, University of Queensland. The information collected is confidential and anonymous, stored securely and is not shared outside of the evaluation team.

Why free naloxone is important

Community access to free naloxone is a public emergency intervention that is currently being used in many parts of the world, with the first community-based naloxone projects starting in 1990s in Europe and the United States. In 1990 Italy was the first country to remove naloxone from a list of prescription-only emergency medications and trial distribution by doctors at public drug services in the Piemonte and Lazio regions.

Since the 90s take home naloxone programs have been introduced to combat preventable deaths in further parts of Europe, the UK, USA, Canada, Central Asia and now Australia.

People at risk of opioid-related emergency or overdose come from all parts of the community and life circumstances, including but not limited to people who:

  • have been prescribed an opioid for the first time
  • are being treated for chronic non-cancer pain
  • are on long-term opioid substitution therapy (e.g. methadone, buprenorphine), on high dose opioids, or those with a recent increase in dosage
  • are on long-acting opioids (e.g. methadone, fentanyl patch) or on regimens of multiple opioids
  • are on concurrent benzodiazepines or other central nervous system depressant medications
  • have previously experienced opioid overdose
  • had a recent period of opioid abstinence, followed by reuptake of opioid use
  • have a history of non-medical use of opioids or dependence on other substances

Information for pharmacists

For information on how Pharmacies in NSW can participate in the program visit

Watch the Naloxone information for pharmacists who dispense prescription opioids video on YouTube.

For free and confidential advice 24/7 call the Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) on 1800 250 015. Counsellors are available to provide information, referrals, crisis counselling and support. Or start a Web Chat with an ADIS counsellor online Monday to Friday, 8.30am – 5pm. ADIS can also provide up-to-date information about service availability in your area during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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