Norway to trial Naloxone nasal spray to revive overdosing heroin addicts
Norway is poised to start trials of a nasal spray that reverses the effect of a heroin overdose, in a move that could encourage other countries to follow suit.
Despite its oil wealth, well-funded drug rehabilitation programmes and generous welfare safety net, Norway has western Europe's worst overdose rate.
Campaigners have long urged the government to approve the nasal spray, which administers Naloxone to people who have taken an overdose, in effect acting as a kind of liquid defibrillator.
Now, regulatory approval permitting, the Norwegian trials will offer the kit in Norway's two most populous cities, Oslo and Bergen, later this year.
Philipp Lobmaier, the doctor leading the trials, said that while Naloxone was no silver bullet, he was confident it would cut the number of ambulance cases. "I hope we will soon be able to show fewer incidents of paramedics being called out," he said.
Since 2002, about 240 people have died each year in Norway from heroin overdoses, more than from traffic accidents.
Naloxone counteracts the effect of opioids on the central nervous system. The kits will be available from non-medical environments where users are more likely to feel safe, such as drop-in centres, hostels and Oslo's safe injecting room.
Critically, according to Martin Blindheim, who is drawing up the national overdose strategy, friends and families will also be able to obtain kits and be trained to use them. "The most important people will be the mothers," he said.
In Vestby, just south of Oslo, Wivian Koppang, whose 21-year-old daughter Madeleine died from an overdose three years ago, welcomed the trial but said the government was still dragging its feet on other solutions. "It must do more to save our children," she said.
Calls from treatment centres and hospitals in Bergen to allow doctors to prescribe heroin to the most at-risk cases have been rejected. There is also no appetite at national level to have safe injecting rooms outside Oslo.
Last year, Oslo's injecting centre was renovated to allow users to smoke the drug there as well. But since the Conservative-led government came into office in October, the law change to allow the new smoking booths to be used has been shelved.
In a still-conservative country, harm-reduction strategies are seen by many as inevitable steps towards a fully fledged libertarian drug policy. Like preaching celibacy to tackle teenage pregnancy, abstinence and rehabilitation are regarded as the key.
"In the long term we all want rehabilitation," said Blindheim. "But dead people cannot be rehabilitated."
A university student in Madrid briefly went into a coma after he ate a birthday cake baked with marijuana, while nine others were taken to hospital.
The comatose man wasn't responding to stimulus when admitted to hospital but later recovered, city emergency services spokesman Javier Chivite said.
It wasn't immediately clear if the pot cake directly led to the man's coma, or if he had ingested other substances or had underlying medical problems.
Eleven people were affected by eating the cake on Sunday. Ten of them were taken to hospital, where they were treated for irregular heartbeat.
Jose Dominguez de Posada, dean of the Alfonso X University in the Spanish capital, said the students were all male and aged between 18 and 22 and most of them were studying veterinary sciences. The campus has about 12,000 students.