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Last Updated: Monday, 8 August 2005, 18:01 GMT 19:01 UK
Fears over drugs overdose deaths
Heroin needle
Drug users are often afraid to call for help
Ambulance crews could be put at risk if they are no longer accompanied by the police when they are called out to drug overdoses, a union official has warned.

Experts at a Glasgow conference believe drug users are dying from overdoses because they fear they will be caught and prosecuted by the police.

One proposal to reduce the number of drug-related deaths is to review the procedure for sending police officers.

However Unison said ambulance crews could come under attack.

David Forbes of Unison said: "It's the unpredictability of the situation that people find themselves in. There has been an increase in attacks on public services workers such as ambulance and fire crews in the last few years.

"It just wouldn't be acceptable to put people at severe risk to their own safety."

A major study into the drug-related deaths of 317 Scots in 2003 found that relatively simple steps may have saved lives.

OVERDOSE STUDY FINDINGS
68% were accidental overdoses
13% were classified as suicides
95% were caused by a cocktail of drugs
In 18% of cases an ambulance was not called
Resuscitation was attempted in 44% of cases
No intervention occurred prior to the ambulance arriving in 38% of incidents

The investigation was launched by Deputy Justice Minister Hugh Henry after the number of drug-related deaths rose in 2002 to 382, compared with 332 the year before.

In 2003 the figure fell to 317, but the General Register Office for Scotland was expected to confirm in the coming weeks that this rose once more in 2004.

Almost 175 agencies, including social services, specialist drug treatment groups, the prison service and the Scottish Criminal Records Office opened up their files for the investigation.

The report authors said some people appeared unsure how to react and may have inadvertently worsened the situation by slapping the victim or giving them cold baths.

Through simple training, like understanding the recovery position and practising mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, more lives might be saved, they suggested.

Potentially prosecuted

Some people also felt they would get into trouble with the police if the emergency services were involved.

One measure being discussed at the conference was whether police should adopt the Manchester Protocol, under which ambulance staff would not call police to the scene of an overdose unless there was a death, a child at risk or a threat of violence to paramedics.

David Liddell, director of the Scottish Drugs Forum, said: "Our research has shown clearly that there are major concerns among the drug using community about calling an ambulance because of police involvement.

"We have to look at the real world. Obviously there is a fear in those situations that they will be caught by the police and potentially prosecuted.

"So they may decide first of all to dispose of drugs and dispose of stolen goods etc before calling the ambulance service."

We certainly don't want to do anything which will condone and encourage drug use and complacency but at the same time if safe use can save lives then we need to examine that
Hugh Henry
Deputy Justice Minister

Another option considered by the experts is use of the drug Naloxone to reverse the effects of narcotic drugs overdoses.

Mr Liddell said: "That drug is currently administered in the event of an opiate overdose by medical personnel but in certain countries it is also administered by users and carers.

"It is one of the questions that has been raised, whether we should be going down that route."

Mr Henry said: "We need to look at it carefully. We certainly don't want to do anything which will condone and encourage drug use and complacency, but at the same time if safe use can save lives then we need to examine that."


SEE ALSO:
Drug services handed 6m boost
27 Oct 04 |  Scotland
Court drug orders 'are working'
26 Oct 04 |  Scotland
Heroin prescription scheme call
30 Sep 04 |  Scotland
New figures show drug deaths fall
26 Aug 04 |  Scotland
Scheme to ensure offenders behave
16 Aug 04 |  Scotland


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