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The growing use of multiple drugs - polydrug use - by people in the Western Isles is causing concern as drug-related deaths across Scotland hit record highs. 

The Outer Hebrides Alcohol and Drug Partnership and NHS Western Isles Substance Misuse Team are raising awareness across the Isles on the importance of being able to access to Take Home Naloxone kits, which can be a lifesaving medication.    

Naloxone is used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, from drugs such as Heroin, Methadone, Buprenorphine and Oxycodone, as well as other illicit and prescribed opiate-based medications.   

In Scotland, there were 1,339 drug related deaths in 2020, the highest number since records began. Of those drug related deaths, 73% were male and 27% were female, 89% of these deaths had some form of opiate identified as contributing to their death, 34% were associated with cocaine and benzodiazepines were implicated in 73% of drug deaths.    

The use of more than one drug, or mixing drugs, is called poly drug use, and this includes the use of alcohol and prescription medications.  The Western Isles has seen a rise in poly drug use over the past few years, and an increase in harm associated with the effects.  

NHS Western Isles say that, as with all illicit substances , you can never be sure of the contents of the drugs or the accurate dose. This makes it difficult to predict how the drugs will affect you, as one person’s reaction can differ from another’s. Personal factors, such as your physical and mental health, or an underlying condition can impact on the body’s reaction to the substances taken, and mixing drugs increases those risks. 

Reduce the harms 

If you choose to use, you can also choose reduce the harms by:  

  • limiting the number of drugs used per session 
  • limit how much you use and 
  • limit how often you use 
  • telling someone what you intend to take and, where possible, don’t consume while on your own. 

It is important that individuals using drugs who may be at risk of an overdose, or their family, friends and work colleagues know where they can access a kit which may help to save a life.   

Dr Maggie Watts, Outer Hebrides Alcohol and Drug Partnership Vice Chair, and Director of Public Health, NHS Western Isles said “With the number of drug related deaths increasing nationally and a local rise in polydrug use, it is important that there is increased accessibility and availability of take-home naloxone kits in the community. 

"Stigma should not be a barrier to anyone seeking to get a kit, whether it is the person who uses drugs l or a family member or friend. Picking up a kit will help will ensure those who are at risk of an overdose receive the appropriate treatment and we continue to protect and save lives.   

"If you suspect someone has taken an overdose, don’t walk the person around or give them anything to eat or drink to try and make them sick, and do not give them any more drugs or alcohol.  Most importantly, do not leave them alone.    

"If you cannot get a response or the person is unconscious, shake their shoulders and speak clearly in both ears.   Check their appearance – is their skin and lips blue/grey? Is the person clammy and are the pupils small pinpoints?   Their breathing may be very slow or irregular and there may be a rasping or snoring sound.   

Naloxone, works within 2-5 minutes to reverse the effects of an overdose.  However, after 20-40 minutes the effects of Naloxone will wear off and the person could go back into overdose.  It is therefore important that you know the signs of an overdose, how to respond and to call 999. 

For anyone willing to carry a kit locally, Naloxone is available through many routes, including NHS and community Substance Misuse Service as well as from the Needle Exchange Pharmacy (KJ MacDonald, Pharmacy Ltd in Stornoway) and other support services across the islands.   

For further information on where to access a Naloxone take-home kit, or to receive appropriate training please telephone 01851 763305.  This number is monitored on a daily basis.  

Naloxone Take Home kits are also available from Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs who offer a discreet click and deliver postal service.

You can request a kit at www.sfad.org.uk/support-services/take-home-naloxone 

If you would like further information, advice and support on local alcohol and drug treatment services available check our online Outer Hebrides Alcohol and Drug Partnership Recovery Support Services Directory at: www.outerhebadp.com/services/our-services or contact the ADP Support Team on 01851 762022.