Pharmac to supply overdose reversing medicine naloxone to needle exchange sites

Media release Medicines

Te Pātaka Whaioranga – Pharmac is pleased to confirm that naloxone injections will now be supplied to the New Zealand Needle Exchange Programme, to ensure it is available in the community to treat opioid overdoses.

“Naloxone quickly reverses an overdose of drugs such as heroin, oxycodone, fentanyl or synthetic opioids. We have heard from groups like the New Zealand Drug Foundation that there’s a real need for it to be available at needle exchange sites,” says Pharmac’s Director, Pharmaceuticals, Geraldine MacGibbon. 

In late September Pharmac was made aware of fake ‘oxycodone’ tablets being sold illegally. It was reported they contained a synthetic opioid which is about six times more potent that fentanyl and resulted in at least one death and several hospitalisations.

“We know naloxone can reverse the life-threatening effects of many synthetic opioids, so enabling needle exchange sites to be able to hold supplies will help those staff with their efforts to reduce the harm associated with opioid use in the community.”

The Executive Director of the Drug Foundation, Sarah Helm says the arrival of naloxone into needle exchanges is great news. “Opioids are already one of the leading causes of overdose deaths in New Zealand and there are potent opioids like nitazenes now appearing in our drug supply. Having naloxone available will save lives.”

Earlier this year Medsafe made amendments to the classification of naloxone, to allow the ampoules with needles or syringes, or pre-filled syringes, to be held by needle exchange sites without a prescription. 

Pharmac then reached an agreement with medicines distributor Onelink to add naloxone to its deliveries direct to community health organisations. Pharmac received an application for the naloxone nasal spray (branded as Nyxoid) at the beginning of 2023 and will be seeking clinical advice from our expert advisors regarding its potential future funding.