Pharmac to supply opioid overdose reversing medicine naloxone to needle exchange sites

Pharmac has announced it will supply a lifesaving medicine that reverses overdoses to needle exchange sites. 

The medicine 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," Pharmac's Director of Pharmaceuticals Geraldine MacGibbon said. 

The Drug Foundation has been calling for more funding for naloxone after a growing number of Kiwis have been dying from drugs like opioids in recent years. 

In 2022, powdered fentanyl was found in New Zealand for the first time. It is a drug that kills tens of thousands of people in the US each year. 

Then in late September this year, fake 'oxycodone' tablets were sold illegally in New Zealand. The tablets contained a synthetic opioid which is about six times more potent than fentanyl and resulted in at least one death and several hospitalisations. 

Drug Foundation executive director Sarah Helm said 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," she said. "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. 

"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," MacGibbon said. 

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.