Attitudes about prescribing take-home naloxone to injection drug users for the management of heroin overdose: a survey of street-recruited injectors in the San Francisco Bay Area


Naloxone, an injectable opiate antagonist, can immediately reverse an opiate overdose and prevent overdose death. We sought to determine injection drug users’ (IDUs) attitudes about being prescribed take-home naloxone. During November 1999 to February 2000, we surveyed 82 street-recruited IDUs from the San Francisco Bay Area of California who had experienced one or more heroin overdose events. We used a questiomaire that included structured and open-ended questions. Most respondents (89%) had witnessed an overdose, and 90% reported initially attempting lay remedies in an effort to help companions survive. Only 51% reported soliciting emergency assistance (calling 911) for the last witnessed overdose, with most hesitating due to fear of police involvement. Of IDUs surveyed, 87% were strongly in favor of participating in an overdose management training program to receive take-home naloxone and training in resuscitation techniques. Nevertheless, respontdents expressed a variety of concerning attitudes. If provided naloxone, 35% predicted that they might feel comfortable using greater amounts of heroin, 62% might be less inclined to call 911 for an overdose, 30% might leave an overdose victim after naloxone resuscitation, and 46% might not be able to dissuade the victim from using heroin again to alleviate with drawal symptoms induced by naloxone. Prescribing take-home naloxone to IDUs with training in its use and in resuscitation techniques may represent a life-saving, peer-based adjunct to accessing emergency services. Nevertheless, strategies for overcoming potential risks associated with the use of take-home naloxone would need to be emphasized in an overdose management training program.

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Correspondence to Dr. Karen H. Seal.

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Seal, K.H., Downing, M., Kral, A.H. et al. Attitudes about prescribing take-home naloxone to injection drug users for the management of heroin overdose: a survey of street-recruited injectors in the San Francisco Bay Area. J Urban Health 80, 291–301 (2003) doi:10.1093/jurban/jtg032

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  • Potential Risk
  • Naloxone
  • Heroin
  • Emergency Service
  • Injection Drug User