Cyrenians’ prison visitor centre at HMP Addiewell in West Lothian recently became the first in the country to offer take-home Naloxone kits and support in using them, offering the capacity to prevent drug related deaths in an extremely vulnerable part of the population.
In transitioning from prison back into the wider communities, the first few weeks are crucial. The limited access to opioids in prison means that most leave with a greatly reduced tolerance, but may not realise how much more vulnerable this makes them. For people who were using opioids habitually before their sentence, amounts they used to consider a small dose can be overwhelming or fatal after a long period of withdrawal. Opioid users are 8 times more likely to overdose in the first fortnight after an extended prison sentence.
As drug deaths in Scotland continue to climb, tackling this epidemic means putting power in the hands of the community to save lives. When someone has an overdose, minutes can be vital in preventing them dying or having a brain injury due to a lack of oxygen. Naloxone is a drug which, properly administered, temporarily reverses the effects of opioid overdose, buying vital time for an ambulance to arrive.
As part of the national work to expand access to Naloxone, our visitor centre at HMP Addiewell began working with the Scottish Drugs Forum in November 2021 to provide take-home kits and training to provide access to, and confidence using, Naloxone among the families of those in prison. Staff at the visitor centre received training both on using Naloxone themselves and on training others on identifying and responding to overdoses using Naloxone. West Lothian Drug and Alcohol Services (WLDAS) has provided the visitor centre at Addiewell with take-home kits, which are available now for families who need them.
Drug deaths are a huge anxiety for families with a loved one leaving prison, particularly given the stress and overwhelm already involved for both the person being released and those who care about them in those crucial early days of transitioning back into the wider community. Being able to prepare families for how to respond if the worst should happen is not just a vital step in tackling drug deaths, it can also be a big part of minimising the stress of transition.
Lesley Frame Whitelaw, Senior Key Worker at HMP Addiewell Visitor Centre, said,
“It makes a huge difference to families’ wellbeing to be able to offer this lifesaver. Overdose is a huge worry for a lot of people when their loved ones are leaving prison, and knowing that they’ll be able to do something if things go wrong helps make those worries manageable.”
With take-home Naloxone distribution launched in November 2021, HMP Addiewell became the first, and currently the only, prison visitor centre in Scotland to provide this vital connection to treatment at a high-risk point in people’s lives, but we hope it will not be the last. Already, staff are reporting that not only is it increasing the availability of overdose prevention kits, the Naloxone programme is also opening up new ways for families of people at risk of overdose to talk frankly about their fears and connect with support both for their loved ones and for themselves. As Lesley Frame Whitelaw said,
"It's created another route into exploring things that people might not otherwise have felt safe to talk about."
By making sure Naloxone, and the confidence to use it, is readily available to those who are likely to witness an overdose, we can all help to tackle the painful and far-reaching impacts of Scotland’s drug death epidemic. We are proud to be leading the way on bringing this vital work to some of Scotland’s most vulnerable communities.