Naloxone can save lives

This article previously featured in Inside Time in April:

I hope that many of you will be familiar with the work the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) does to investigate your complaints. You might not know that the PPO is also responsible for investigating deaths in prison. 

In September 2021, we began a 12-month pilot to investigate the deaths of people who had recently been released. We knew that lots of people died quite soon after they left prison – and that there might be important learning for the different organisations responsible for pre-release planning and post-release support. We decided to focus on deaths that happened within 14 days of release, which meant we could identify learning about the support provided when leaving prison.

We continue to investigate post-release deaths, but during the 12-month pilot, we began investigations into 48 post-release deaths. Our investigations identified some important lessons for prison and probation staff and community agencies that help to support those leaving prison. Many of you won’t be at all surprised to learn that we found information sharing between different organisations wasn’t always good enough. Similarly, you’ll know better than we do that having a safe and secure place to live when you leave prison is really important – and sometimes extremely difficult to arrange. 

We found that 50 percent of the post-release deaths we began investigating were drug-related. This is a really high percentage, and we wanted to use this opportunity to share with you information about naloxone, which came up during these investigations.

Naloxone is a medicine that can rapidly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose (opioids include heroin and methadone). A dose of naloxone (usually either in a prefilled syringe or a nasal spray) can save someone’s life if they’re given it quickly after an overdose. It can also be given before emergency services arrive. 

When you leave prison, you should be told how to reduce the risks of a drug overdose and that your drug tolerance (the amount of drugs you can take without overdosing) might have changed. You might also be offered a naloxone kit. Our investigations found that some of the prisoners who died had either not been offered a naloxone kit or had refused to take up the offer of one. We don’t know all the reasons why people refused a naloxone kit, but in some cases prisoners decided that they didn’t need one because they were sure they wouldn’t use drugs when they were released. 

We want to help raise awareness of the benefits of taking a naloxone kit when you leave prison. No one will judge you for taking a kit, and it doesn’t mean that you’re going to use drugs when you leave prison. We want our investigations to have an impact, and we want to see an increase in the number of prison leavers who are released with a naloxone kit. So please, if you’re leaving prison soon, ask staff about naloxone, and if you are offered a naloxone kit please seriously consider accepting it. It might help save your life, or the life of someone you know.

Susannah Eagle – Deputy Ombudsman for Fatal Incidents