Scottish Firefighters Armed with Naloxone to Prevent Drug Deaths

Pavankumar Kamat

February 10, 2022

In a bid to strengthen the fight against drug deaths, firefighters in Scotland will now be able to volunteer to carry naloxone nasal spray to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) now joins the Scottish Ambulance Service and Police Scotland in carrying the potentially life-saving antidote. This is a part of a larger project that has been granted funding worth £90,000 by the Scottish Government.

Chief Officer of the SFRS, Martin Blunden, said in a tweet: "Delighted to join Police Scotland and Scottish Ambulance Service in recognising medication plays a role in saving lives. We’re seeking volunteers from across the country to create a wide network of SFRS staff who can administer naloxone as a nasal spray."

Firefighters who volunteer to carry naloxone will be trained on identifying the signs and symptoms of an opioid overdose and administering the medication. All SFRS staff will have access to a naloxone information pack.

Volunteers To Carry the Treatment

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Minister for Drugs Policy Angela Constance visited the Bathgate Community Fire Station on Wednesday, where Group Commander Paul Blackwood gave them a demonstration of the use of naloxone. 

Speaking on the occasion, First Minister Sturgeon said: "SFRS staff regularly interact with the public during operational incidents, prevention and protection work, and community engagement, and it is reassuring to know that if they come across a situation involving an opioid overdose that volunteers will be able to administer naloxone while they wait for an ambulance to arrive."

Assistant Chief Officer Stuart Stevens, who is the SFRS Director of Service Delivery, added: "We will fully support volunteers within SFRS to complete training to safely administer naloxone to help prevent avoidable drug deaths from overdoses. This project highlights our commitment to working with partners to improve the safety and wellbeing of the people of Scotland."

Commander Blackwood also narrated a personal incident that prompted him to carry naloxone. He said: "I grew up in Glasgow and I lost my best friend at the age of 19 from a drugs overdose. This traumatic experience has stayed with me and so it was important for me to volunteer to carry naloxone. I have the kit because I want to be in a position to save someone's life."

Opioids Leading Cause of Drug Deaths in Scotland

According to the National Records of Scotland, there were 1339 drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2020, a 5% increase from the previous year. Importantly, opiates/opioids accounted for 89% of these deaths. The number of suspected drug deaths in Scotland during the first half of 2021 alone was 722. Scotland’s drug-death rate is not only more than 3.5 times the overall rate for the UK, but is also much higher than the rates for other European nations.

The Scottish Drug Deaths Taskforce, which was established in 2019, has implemented several measures to tackle the issue, the most important being targeted distribution of naloxone. The Taskforce helps in distribution of naloxone kits along with relevant training to first responders and care providers and also to night shelters, hostels, and community pharmacies.

Police officers in Scotland administered naloxone for the first time in March 2021 to a member of the public, just hours after receiving training. The police have since then saved several lives. It is expected that firefighters too will play a key role in this initiative.

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