Stirling researchers awarded NHS grant to tackle prescription opioid overdose

Substance use experts at the University of Stirling have been awarded a £30,000 research grant from NHS Fife to help reduce the risk of overdose in prescription opioid users.

A team, led by Dr Tessa Parkes, Research Director for the Salvation Army Centre for Addiction Services and Research, will explore the feasibility of introducing a specific overdose prevention intervention via community pharmacists, for those prescribed opioids for chronic non-cancer pain (CNCP).

The number of patients being prescribed opioids for CNCP – which refers to those suffering from conditions including low back pain, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia – has significantly increased over the last ten years. In 2012, 18% of the Scottish population were found to have been prescribed opioids, mostly for CNCP.

Dr Parkes said: “Scotland has one of the highest rates of opioid overdose mortality in Europe and the rates of both fatal and non-fatal drug related overdoses of opioid users are increasing in Scotland.

“Currently, overdose patients are treated with Naloxone – an injectable drug which blocks or reverses the effects of opioids – but it isn’t currently widely distributed within the CNCP population.

“Through this study, we will explore stakeholder views on the potential benefits of developing a new intra-nasal take-home naloxone package, as well as information and education for beneficiaries and family members, which would be facilitated by pharmacists working in communities.”

Dr Parkes will work in partnership with the University’s Catriona Matheson, Professor in Substance Use, and Research Fellow, Dr Rebecca Foster, on the study, with support from partners at NHS Fife, University of St Andrews, Glasgow Caledonian University and NHS Health Protection Scotland. The team will conduct interviews with community pharmacists, individuals and family members in order to collect their views on this tailored intervention.

Dr Parkes added: “We want to strengthen the evidence base in this area in order to help reduce the high rate of opioid related deaths in Scotland. The findings are also likely to be useful to the rest of the UK and to other countries facing similar issues, including the United States and Canada.

“If the findings from this study are promising, we would hope to secure further funding for a larger-scale study.”

The research project, Assessing prescription opioid overdose risk (POOR) via a quality improvement process led by NHS Fife Pharmacy and scoping the feasibility of a specific overdose prevention intervention delivered by community pharmacists, is expected to be completed in early 2020 and is being supported by the Drugs Research Network Scotland (DRNS).

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