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How competent are people who use opioids at responding to overdoses? Qualitative analyses of actions and decisions taken during overdose emergencies.

BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Providing take-home naloxone (THN) to people who use opioids is an increasingly common strategy for reversing opioid overdose. However, implementation is hindered by doubts regarding the ability of people who use opioids to administer naloxone and respond appropriately to overdoses. We aimed to increase understanding of the competencies required and demonstrated by opioid users who had recently participated in a THN programme and were subsequently confronted with an overdose emergency.DESIGN: Qualitative study designed to supplement findings from a randomized controlled trial of overdose education and naloxone distribution. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, systematically coded and analysed via Iterative Categorization.SETTING: New York City, USA.PARTICIPANTS: Thirty-nine people who used opioids (32 men, 7 women; aged 22-58 years).INTERVENTION: Trial participants received brief or extended overdose training and injectable or nasal naloxone.MEASUREMENTS: The systematic coding frame comprised deductive codes based on the topic guide and more inductive codes emerging from the data.FINDINGS: In 38 of 39 cases the victim was successfully resuscitated; the outcome of one overdose intervention was unknown. Analyses revealed five core overdose response ‘tasks’: (1) overdose identification; (2) mobilizing support; (3) following basic first aid instructions; (4) naloxone administration; and (5) post-resuscitation management. These tasks comprised actions and decisions that were themselves affected by diverse cognitive, emotional, experiential, interpersonal and social factors over which lay responders often had little control. Despite this, participants demonstrated high levels of competency. They had acquired new skills and knowledge through training and brought critical ‘insider’ understanding to overdose events and the resuscitation actions which they applied.CONCLUSIONS: People who use opioids can be trained to respond appropriately to opioid overdoses and thus to save their peers’ lives. Overdose response requires both practical competency (e.g. skills and knowledge in administering basic first aid and naloxone) and social competency (e.g. willingness to help others, having the confidence to be authoritative and make decisions, communicating effectively and demonstrating compassion and care to victims post-resuscitation).

Authors: Neale, Joanne J; Brown, Caral C; Campbell, Aimee N C ANC; Jones, Jermaine D JD; Metz, Verena E VE; Strang, John J; Comer, Sandra D SD

Addiction (Abingdon, England). 2019 04 ;114(4):708-718. Epub 2018-12-28.

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