Police to Carry Naloxone: 6 month trial in Scotland

by Ella Walsh


It has been announced that officers in East of Glasgow, Falkirk and Dundee will carry naloxone, as part of a new pilot scheme announced by Police Scotland. 

“It’s wonderful to hear that Police Scotland have decided to run a six month pilot which will enable their officers to carry life saving naloxone, following in the footsteps of other progressive UK police forces such as West Midlands police and North Wales Police. Scotland has seen more than its fair share of tragic deaths with figures showing 1,187 drug related deaths (DRDs) last year with opioids being present in toxicology reports in 86% of those who tragically lost their lives” – George Charlton

This was a record number of DRDs in Scotland. As a result, the Scottish Affairs Committee (SAC) has called on the government to replace the criminal justice approach to drug policy with a health-based approach. Drug-related harms and deaths are pervasive, generational and systematic issues in Scotland. These preventable problems will continue to grow without a pragmatic response

The SAC placed emphasis on decriminalisation and safe consumption facilities (SCFs) as strategies for preventing DRDs in Scotland. However, the Home Office was less favourable to this approach advising that there are “lots of things that can be done immediately”, and not to fixate on SCFs. The Home Office argued that heroin-assisted treatment, naloxone and methadone are more effective, and within budget. Nonetheless, SAC maintains their position that the introduction of a SCF would be a huge step towards reducing DRD in areas like Glasgow. 

Peter Krykant’s activism is an excellent example of harm reduction with his safe drug-consumption van in Glasgow. 

What is Naloxone?

Naloxone is an opioid antagonist, meaning it can reverse an overdose. This drug is a powerful tool for reducing harm and saving lives. 

One study used statistical analysis to determine the effectiveness of Scotland’s naloxone programme in reducing opioid related deaths. This research focused on opiate-related deaths that took place within 4 weeks of leaving prison; which between 2006-2010 accounted for 9.8% of opioid related deaths in Scotland. The research concluded the introduction of Scotland’s National Naloxone Programme corresponds with a 36% decrease in opiate related deaths in the 4 weeks following prison release. The programme had a distribution target of 8000 naloxone kits per year, supplying almost 36,000 kits in 6 years with 90% going to individuals at the risk of overdose.

These findings highlight the life-saving potential of this drug, but by no means is naloxone the ultimate solution to opioid related deaths. 

This study indicates the effectiveness of naloxone for reducing DRDs. But George highlights that the introduction of naloxone administration into policing has been met by resistance from Scottish Police Federation. 

“Whilst I commend Police Scotland and welcome their actions, it should be noted that the lack of support from the Scottish police federation is extremely concerning.”- George Charlton 

In a recent article the Chair of the Scottish Police Federation stated:

“As the detail of the pilot has unfolded, it is increasingly clear that this is a public relations exercise and has nothing to do with saving lives…what is next shall we get officers to carry ladders and hoses.” – David Hamliton- Chair of SPF

This is not the first time there has been some resistance to naloxone in policing. Previously officers were concerned about administering naloxone intravenously, and were hesitant to carry needles without medical training. However, naloxone now comes as a nasal spray, which is both easier and safer to administer. This new method of administration will help to address concerns raised before. But nonetheless training and education for those administering naloxone is imperative, to ensure that officers are confident using this life saving drug.  

George has confidently expressed that David Hamilton’s problematic views are not reflective of the officers on the ground. 

“I can’t honestly understand how Mr Hamilton thinks that using naloxone is about anything other than saving the lives of the people of Scotland. His views are extremely discriminatory and I feel do not represent the views of the many wonderful compassionate cops working across Scotland. Putting naloxone into the hands of officers will enable them to protect the most basic of human rights, Article 2, The right to life…even drug users deserve that.” –George Charlton 

George advices that ‘Mr Hamilton’ should re-familiarise himself and his colleagues with Police Scotland’s Mission, which states:

“Police Scotland exists to keep people safe. We do this with integratory, fairness and respect and by upholding fundamental human rights” – Scotland Police 

It’s clear introduction of naloxone into policing is absolutely a step in the right direction, as they are often the first responders on the scene of an overdose. 

However, it is also important to keep in mind the adverse effects that can be experienced by people after naloxone administration. These can include rage and dissociative states, due to the individual going straight into opioid withdrawal.

This highlights the need to put further harm reduction training in place, around how to manage these adverse effects following administration, as it is important that this does not prevent naloxone from being administered.

Providing naloxone to police officers clearly has the potential to save lives – but proper training and education will be key to its success to ensure that individuals that are administered the drug are taken care of post-administration.

This piece was written by Ella Walsh, Content Officer at Volteface. Tweets @snoop_ella

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