Pioneering scheme sees police carrying - and administering - an emergency antidote to heroin

Allegra Stratton

Former National Editor

  • Video report by ITV News National Editor Allegra Stratton

There's an awful lot going on around the country as UK police and charities try to get a handle on record high levels of drugs deaths.

Here at ITV News, we've already covered the first heroin assisted treatment room in Cleveland and now we look at the first use of the antidote - naloxone.

Since July, we have followed West Midlands Police as they become the first UK police force to roll the spray out.

All their city centre police officers will be trained how to use naloxone. A heroin addict in Birmingham dies every three days so they want to equip officers arriving to the scene of a heroin overdose.

A heroin addict in Birmingham dies every three days. Credit: PA

In August, the Office for National Statistics reported that 4,359 deaths from drug poisoning were recorded in England Wales in 2018,the highest figures since records began inn 1993 and the steepest one year increase. Over half of these were caused by an opiate like heroin.

Heroin works by occupying opiate receptors and slowing down a person's breathing rate - a heroin overdose essentially sees someone forget to breathe. Naloxone spray is quite an amazing medicine.

It knocks the opiate out of the opiate receptors and squats, giving the person administering it time for a paramedic to arrive.

For so quickly and certainly reversing the effect of an opiate overdose, it has been called something of a 'wonder-drug'.

What's more, it doesn't have adverse side effects. If it is used on someone who has taken spice or mamba, the police have received assurances there will be no adverse affects.

It's been used in other countries for a while now, and indeed has been used in UK custody suites by nurses from independent agencies trying to bring round a newly admitted prisoner.

It has also been handed out to addicts by drug treatment centres in Birmingham - we met addicts wearing yellow wristbands indicating they had been trained in how to use the drug.

Heroin works by occupying opiate receptors and slowing down a person's breathing rate. Credit: PA

However, many worry that is the harder to reach addicts, not currently receiving drug treatment (a much reduced service as captured here in John Ray's brilliant recent film), that are the ones most likely to die from overdoses.

But the decision by West Midlands to hand it out to its officers pushes the role of the police in this country to new levels.

Whereas once when they came to the scene of a drug overdose they would have had to wait helplessly until an ambulance arrived, now they will take action.

Some officers we spoke to were worried that it could encourage the use of heroin in Birmingham city centre - people might feel they could take the drug in Birmingham safe in the knowledge that the police can now stop them from overdosing.

But most were pleased that they now have extra kit to help them deal with the city's record high drug deaths.