Opioid overdose drug naloxone given out in Middlesbrough

A volunteer
Image caption The volunteers have already given out 60 kits

The opioid overdose drug naloxone is being distributed on to the streets of Middlesbrough for the first time, the BBC has found.

The medicine has previously only been available in north-east England on release from prisons, in hospital, in custody suites or at GP practices

Naloxone kits cost £18 each and are distributed by volunteers, who have all themselves battled addiction. So far around 60 have been given out during the outreach work, BBC podcast The Next Episode found.

Middlesbrough's drug deaths rose 16% in 2018 to their highest level since 1993.

Image caption George Charlton wants the project to roll out further

The north-east of England has significantly higher drug death rates than the rest of the country and Middlesbrough's total was the highest since records began 26 years ago, the Office for National Statistics said.

George Charlton, with support from a number of organisations, is developing the model for naloxone distribution.

He was given an "arms-length grant" by drug firm Ethypharm, who produce naloxone kits, to examine how they could be given out on the streets.

Although Ethypharm said they might see "a small uplift" in naloxone sales, they insisted they had invested in George in order to "get the drug into the hands of the right people".

'A lot of stigma'

The Scottish Drugs Forum said the distribution model is "pioneering" and is a development of similar schemes that have run elsewhere.

Drug charities Addaction and Change, Grow, Live say they support the scheme.

Public Health Middlesbrough has a yearly budget of about £20,000 for buying and distributing naloxone across different services.

Foundations, a specialist GP service tackling addiction, worked with Mr Charlton to bid for some of that fund to provide the kits and some volunteers' expenses.

Both say they would like to develop a way to pay volunteers in the future.

Image caption The kits cost £18 each

Middlesbrough Labour MP Andy McDonald said that the issue of drug deaths was directly linked to "a lack of investment".

"Whose fault is that? Successive governments," he said.

"The local authority has had a reduction of 60% of revenues to deliver services. That gives you a clue as to why we've seen the problems we have."

Middlesbrough Council's Deputy Mayor and Thematic Lead for Drugs, Councillor Antony High, said blaming central Government was "poor".

"Austerity is true, cuts are evident but Labour leaders have failed Middlesbrough. I'm now working to provide a better model that will deliver services with limited finance".

The Government says local authorities, like Middlesbrough, have been given £3bn to spend on public health services which includes issues like addiction.

Public Health South Tees' Drug Related Deaths Co-ordinator, Tom Le Ruez, said he believed the town had a "willingness to change".

"Part of the problem is that people don't recognise this as a serious issue and there's quite a lot of stigma," he said.

"Because it is criminalised, there isn't a view that these people are human beings and suffer from issues around taking drugs."

Image caption It is thought to be the first time the kits have been given out on the streets

George Charlton, from Newcastle, has a history with addiction of his own but, now in recovery, said he was "on a mission".

He said: "I'm buzzing, man. This is my drug now - saving lives.

"I struggled for a long time with addiction issues. I was a poly-drug user, I wasn't particularly addicted to any one type of drug. I had big problems with opiates.

"I spent time having my overdoses reversed in hospitals [with naloxone], so this matters to me.

"People aren't living. They're waiting to die and I just think when you consider the deaths, we've got to do something to stop them.

"Naloxone is available but generally you have to go to places to get it, you've got to be in treatment.

"The aspiration was 'can we identify a bunch of people with lived experience of addiction, could we train them in overdose prevention techniques, get them confident in the training and supplying of naloxone then take them out on to the streets to deliver this education to their mates, their peers?'

"We have five peers who turn up every day. It's a privilege to work with them."

More to Middlesbrough

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Image caption Little Mix, The 1975 and Miley Cyrus performed in the town for Radio 1's Big Weekend

Mr Charlton hopes his team in Middlesbrough can "set the standard" and he said he had already had interest from other local authorities around the country.

Middlesbrough Mayor, Andy Preston said he could "see no downside" of handing out naloxone kits.

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