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  • Writer's pictureThe Last Straw

Recognizing & Responding to Unseen Lives: Elevating Naloxone as a Health Priority in Southeast Asia

Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC), together with eight other regional HIV/AIDS organisations that constituted the ASEAN Harm Reduction Association (AHRA) is making a collective Call to Action to prioritizing Naloxone access to prevent drug overdose deaths and champion public health. This urgent plea was made in conjunction with the recent International Overdose Awareness Day 2023.

Naloxone is a medication used to quickly reverse the life-threatening effects of opioid overdose. Opioids, which include prescription painkillers like oxycodone and illegal drugs like heroin, can slow down a person's breathing to the point where it becomes dangerously shallow or stops altogether. Naloxone works by binding to the same receptors in the brain that opioids attach to. This binding process displaces the opioids and rapidly reverses their effects. As a result, it can restore normal breathing and consciousness in someone who has overdosed on opioids.

Opioids significantly impact global drug-related morbidity and mortality, particularly in Asia. Among opioid users, mortality risk is 14 times higher than the general population, with overdose-related fatalities being a key cause. Out of the 15.6 million people who inject drugs globally, a majority, an estimated 25.5%, reside in Southeast Asia. Asia is also a hub for amphetamine use, accounting for 51% of global use.

Elevating the Call: Policy Recommendations and Actionable Steps

This Call-to-Action outlines evidence-based policy recommendations and actionable steps to prioritize harm reduction within national health and drug policies. It is important to recognize the cost-efficient and life-saving value of Naloxone as a low-threshold, easy-toadminister medication with the almost instantaneous ability to reverse an overdose and prevent death. It can be administered by practically anyone, and its effectiveness emphasizes the urgency of time in saving lives.

A Collective Effort: Empowering Non-Medical Individuals

We rally not only governments, policymakers, and society but also the public and funders to unite in elevating Naloxone as a top priority. This empowerment extends beyond the traditional medical sphere. The term "non-medical" refers to individuals who may not have formal medical training but have the power to intervene and make a difference.

Just as CPR training equips bystanders to save lives without judgment, Naloxone distribution and administration can become a collective endeavour, where anyone can step in and prevent unnecessary tragedies.

Key Asks for Broader Audiences

We call for Naloxone to be listed under the National Essential Drugs Lists, ensuring its inclusion in the national budget. This will facilitate broader access, making Naloxone a readily available resource. We advocate for training initiatives that encompass a wider range of individuals, including Peer Educators who play a crucial role in disseminating knowledge within communities.

Availability at Drop-in Centers: A Lifesaving Resource

Furthermore, we urge the availability of Naloxone at drop-in centers run by peers and NGOs. These centers serve as vital points of contact for individuals in need. Equipping them with Naloxone can significantly contribute to saving lives and minimizing the impact of overdose-related incidents.

In conclusion, this Call to Action underscores the urgency of policy reform that makes Naloxone accessible. As we commemorate International Overdose Awareness Day, we raise our collective voice, urging governments, policymakers, the public, funders, and society at large to recognize and respond to the lives that often remain unseen. By adopting the proposed policy measures to significantly increase access to Naloxone, we can save lives, reduce harm, and foster a compassionate approach towards addressing drug-related challenges in Southeast Asia.

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