Pharmac supplies naloxone to needle exchange sites

Stories Kauneke Update

“New Zealand, touch wood, has not had the kind of statistics they’re seeing in places like the USA or Canada with opioid overdoses – so we’ve been lucky,” starts Carl Greenwood, the General Manager of the Lower North Island Needle Exchange Programme.

General Manager of the Lower North Island Needle Exchange Programme Carl Greenwood demonstrates how to use a naloxone ampoule..
Carl Greenwood

“But in saying that, I can’t imagine we’re always going to be lucky. Prevention and treatment measures need to be available before the epidemic, not afterwards. We must be ahead of the problem.”

With a growing number of New Zealanders dying from opioid overdoses, Pharmac announced in December 2023 that it would supply naloxone injections to the New Zealand Needle Exchange Programme. 

“Naloxone quickly reverses an overdose of drugs, such as heroin, oxycodone, fentanyl, or synthetic opioids,” says Pharmac’s Director Pharmaceuticals, Geraldine MacGibbon. “So, supplying needle exchange sites with naloxone will help staff to reduce the harm associated with opioid use in the community.”

Greenwood agrees. “When someone comes into a needle exchange site and they say ‘oh I would like some naloxone’, we’ll ask – is it for your home, are you using opiates? We’ll sit them down, talk to them about the signs of an overdose, and train them to use a naloxone kit.”

“The message we keep putting out is, if there is someone in your house using opiates recreationally – a smart thing to do would be to come in and have a chat with us. They’re the ones who could be using naloxone ultimately.”

"Also, there are services who have outreach workers or who work in the frontline, who we will provide naloxone to. Services like the Wellington City Mission and the Wellington Women’s Homeless Trust. We have a paramedic coming in soon who wants some for her personal vehicle alongside a first aid kit, in case of an emergency.”

The call for funding for naloxone grew after an increase of contaminants, like fentanyl and nitazines, being found in recreational drugs.

“A couple of years ago there was an incident in Masterton, involving fentanyl. We knew, as soon as the doors opened, people would be in. Masterton is a small place, they were all coming in and asking what was happening, what had happened. And we were able to give them advice, resources, and testing strips,” says Greenwood.

“This incident is a good example of how quickly it can happen. If a supply of opiates is contaminated with something like fentanyl or nitazines, having naloxone available where it is needed is invaluable.”

“It’s just a great move,” confirms Greenwood. “It can’t be misused, it is exactly what it is for, and that’s to reverse an overdose. Having naloxone available at needle exchange sites, and by extension to more New Zealanders, will help to save lives.”