BENDIGO Community Health Service hopes a program offering the anti-overdose drug Naloxone free to opiate addicts can address an alarming spike in heroin overdose deaths in Bendigo from last year.
Bendigo had the highest number of heroin overdose deaths in regional Victoria in 2017 with nine recorded, compared with six in Geelong and four in Ballarat.
A “bad batch” of heroin which was being circulated in Bendigo in March last year was believed to be behind the spike in deaths, but it was unclear what the drug was being mixed with to cause the adverse reactions.
BCHS ruled out Fentanyl as the culprit – a drug which has caused a surge in deaths in the United States when covertly mixed with heroin. Fentanyl is used illicitly in “very small numbers” in the Loddon-Mallee region, according to BCHS, with users warned of the high potential for overdose.
Since the spike in overdoses in Bendigo, BCHS has started offering Naloxone for free as part of its needle exchange program.
Acting manager of the BCHS alcohol and other drugs team Bart McGill said it was crucial that opiate users were aware of Naloxone and its life-saving qualities.
“We have established a free Naloxone program which includes training,” he said.
“Anyone who uses opiates or faces a risk of overdose and those around them should be aware of Naloxone and how to administer it because this saves lives.
“If there’s someone you care about that is on an opiate medication or has a a history of overdose, please get a free Naloxone script from BCHS and let us help you learn more about it.”
The heroin overdose death figures were included in a Coroners Court Victoria report into the death of Samuel Morrison in Hoppers Crossing, who was found to have a combination of heroin, benzodiazepine and other drugs in his system.
The Coroners Court recommended further risk-reducing strategies be investigated across Victoria to address increasing rates of heroin-related deaths. It built on an earlier Coroners report which recommended the safe injecting facility in Richmond.
Mr McGill said the programs run through BCHS had reduced harm associated with opiate dependency.
“BCHS supports people who use all drugs, particularly opiates such as heroin and OxyContin,” he said.
“We have provided pharmacotherapy to people experiencing Opiate dependants for many years with great success.
“People who are on pharmacotherapy routinely face significant stigma and discrimination based solely on the medication they’re prescribed, despite the fact this reduces a person’s overdose risk and restores a level of stability which allows them the chance to make more informed decisions about their health and their future.”