Wake-up call: Limerick experts say prescription for wonder drug 'too restrictive'

Fintan Walsh


Fintan Walsh

The interagency group, including Dr Patrick O’Donnell, right, Novas and Ana Liffey Project workers, at City Hall

The interagency group, including Dr Patrick O’Donnell, right, Novas and Ana Liffey Project workers, at City Hall

MEDICAL experts and addiction prevention groups tackling Limerick’s heroin problem have criticised the “narrow law” around the restrictive distribution of the wonder-drug naloxone this week.

To mark Overdose Awareness Day, Metropolitan Mayor Cllr Daniel Butler convened an interagency talk at City Hall to discuss how opioid overdoses and addiction are being tackled in Limerick.

The talk included speeches by Cllr Butler, who is a drug education worker; GP Dr Patrick O’Donnell; Sinead Carey of Novas; Rachel O’Donoghue of Ana Liffey Project; Rory Keane, the regional director of the Mid-West drug and alcohol service; and former heroin user and advocate for addicts, Ger Lynch.

The special meeting on Monday highlighted the introduction of the naloxone nasal spray, which is now being piloted in Limerick.

When users consume opioids, such as methadone or heroin, they stick to receptors in the brain that control the breathing system. If opioids come into contact with too many receptors, a person’s breathing can shut down.

Naloxone, when administered, removes the opioid receptors in the brain, hence saving the victim. 

However, though the drug - in needle form - has been available for three years, only the drug users can be prescribed the life-saving medication.

Dr Patrick O'Donnell said it was one of the “biggest challenges” he faces as a GP.

“The commonest question I get asked about naloxone is, why did you give it to the person who is at risk of overdose? Why didn’t you give it to their partner or to their mother or father or to a person who is going to be using it [opioid] with them. And the answer is the law says I have to give it to the person who is at risk. In truth, if that person overdoses, they are not going to be able to inject themselves or use the nasal spray themselves,” he said, describing the law as “quite narrow”. 

He added that this is why training is being provided to those who are around people who are at risk of overdose.

Rachel O’Donoghue, team leader of the Mid-West Ana Liffey Project at Steamboat Quay, is also calling for the drug to be made more widely accessible.

She said Ireland has the fourth highest rate of heroin overdoses in Europe.

She said Ana Liffey Project is calling for a prescription-free naloxone. She said that if an overdose were to take place, they would have to hope that the service user is carrying naloxone on their person.

Mayor Butler commended all those involved in tackling heroin addiction in Limerick city. “I am delighted I can bring you here to represent that voice here.”