Category: Primary care

Overdose Education and Naloxone: Workshop for Family Medicine Trainees in Ireland

Overdose is the most common cause of deaths among heroin users. Our previous research has shown that the ambulances in Dublin see one overdose every day*. Naloxone is a life-saving nasal spray for reversing heroin overdose. It has no addictive properties, no potential for abuse and a low cost. In Ireland, it is currently used by ambulance and emergency care services as an injection into muscle, into the bone or under the skin.

Irish family doctors treat many heroin users users who are in the methadone treatment. This makes family doctors ideal to use naloxone themselves or to show patients how to use it. The new Clinical Practice Guideline of the Pre-hospital Emergency Council of Ireland advises that trained professionals can use intranasal naloxone.

Today, we ran a pilot workshop with doctors in training. It was designed to help trainees identify and manage opioid overdose with naloxone spray. The trainees listened to a short presentation, watched a video clip about how to use naloxone (Figure 1), and tried it themselves. However, they did not get the spray to take home with them.

Figure 1 Jano simulating overdose in a pilot educational video for general practice trainees

23 young doctors from one postgraduate training scheme in Ireland participated in an hour long lunchtime workshop. We have asked them to self-assess their own knowledge of and attitudes towards naloxone using the validated Opioid Overdose Knowledge (OOKS) and Attitudes (OOAS) Scales. They did the scales before and after the workshop. Another questionnaire measured the acceptability and satisfaction with workshop. The doctors gave us valuable feedback on the session which will be analysed and published in an academic paper.

The take home message from today is that adequate training is essential for distribution of naloxone through Family Practitioners. In future studies, the knowledge from this pilot may be used to inform a train-the-trainer model. Healthcare professionals and other front-line service providers may be trained to instruct heroin users and their families in overdose prevention and naloxone use. Today’s workshop was timed perfectly, because the deaths due to overdose in the country are peaking.

*Study by: Klimas, J., O’Reilly, M., Egan, M., Tobin, H., Bury, G. (2014) Urban Overdose Hotspots: A 12-Month Prospective Study in Dublin Ambulance Services. American Journal of Emergency Medicine (Online July 30) doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2014.07.017

Does it work? When doctors need evidence

Healthcare professionals can generate important clinical questions for addiction research. Answering such questions by conducting a Cochrane review of evidence is a satisfying learning process and can contribute to drugs policy. This article summarises the experiences of an addiction medicine researcher conducting a Cochrane review, developing and evaluating a researcher-facilitated programme for medical student research activity in general practice.

photo credit:

One summer afternoon in 2010, an interview with a family physician in Dublin opened my eyes about talking therapies for drink problems among people who also used other drugs. “Does counselling work for these people?” the doctor asked.  “Yes”, I was absolutely convinced about it, but I had no evidence for my faith. Surprised by his interest, I sent him the only two studies on the topic that I knew of; never heard back from him.

I searched for more studies without success. Many studies on general population showed up in my internet search, but none for people who also used other drugs.
This made me doubt my beliefs. At that time, a national funding agency announced a call for Cochrane training fellowships. Cochrane collaboration hosts the largest database of systematic reviews to inform healthcare decisions. Cochrane reviews are the jaguars of medical evidence synthesis. The fellowship was a godsend. I could use the funding to learn from Cochrane gurus and answer the Dublin doctor’s question by making the most of all available literature. My supervisor introduced me to a Cochrane author, Dr Liam Glynn, who reviewed self-management strategies for high blood pressure. He agreed to mentor my fellowship. We booked the title for our review with the Cochrane Drug andAlcohol Review Group in Italy and started to work on it when we got the funding.
The review found very few studies, most of which didn’t have a control group or randomised patients without drink problems; we could not give any recommendations to doctors.
The next step in the quest for the answer, we approached patients with dual drug and alcohol problems and fed their ideas back to the experts. Expert consensus recommendations are standard in the absence of scientific studies. The group had to rely on semi-structured interviews with doctors and patients and “B class” evidence from my review. The result of their consensus was a manual for family doctors.
Having developed the manual, we tested its value to answer our original question: “Does it work?” The new pilot trial encourages doctors to ask people who use illicit drugs about alcohol and to help those with mild problems; severe problems are best treated by a specialist.  Sixteen general practices (GPs) in two deprived regions will be randomised to receive the manual-based training or to keep doing what they do. The latter group will be trained later.
When I finished my Cochrane training and review, it was time for me to give back and teach medical students because the fellowships worked on the pay-it-forward model. Equipping the new generation of doctors with critical literature review and appraisal skills was my contribution to the improvement of addiction healthcare delivery. The aim of our teaching project was to create and evaluate a training-through-research programme for medical students, facilitated by a seasoned researcher.
We offered online webinars, methodological advice, mentoring, and one-one interaction. Our medical school emailed all students and we randomly selected a handful needed for our research projects. Collaborators from biostatistics, psychiatry and public health aided the programme. The students presented their work at four conferences and wrote three academic papers for medical journals.
Teaching literature reviews to medical students was a rewarding learning experience. I learned that the quality and commitment of students varies; different expectations led to different work processes and outputs. Some students submitted their work in more finished stage than others; competing priorities precluded achievement of higher standards. The manuscript preparation, submission and publication processes were too long for short student projects, although some students persevered and remained involved until the end.
From a personal perspective, I still don’t know whether counselling works for drink problems in people who also use other drugs, but I’ve learned how to query the literature when doctors need evidence.

This post is based on our presentation at the INMED conference in Belfast, and o recent article in the Substance Abuse journal. References:
  • Klimas, J., & Cullen, W. (2014). Addressing a Training Gap through Addiction Research Education for Medical Students: Letter to editor. Substance Abuse. doi: 10.1080/08897077.2014.939802
  • Klimas, J., & Cullen, W. (2014). Teaching literature reviews: researcher-facilitated programme to support medical student research activity in general practice. Poster presented at the Annual scientific meeting of the Irish Network of Medical Educators, February 21, Belfast, NI.


Addressing a Training Gap through Addiction Research Education for Medical Students: New Paper out Now

Can medical doctors use scientifically proven treatments for addiction? Can they access and critically appraise the latest advances in the addiction science? 

In this letter to the editor, we respond to the editorial by Gordon and Alford (2013), in the recent special issue of the Substance Abuse (Vol. 33, No. 3), provides an insightful reflection on the early attempts at describing curriculum development and implementation of addiction content into various learning environments. We report on preliminary results of our course in addiction medicine research facilitated by a PhD researcher in the University of Limerick. We wanted to help medical students learn how to do and read addiction medicine research. The first cohort of 14 students received the training the full text at:

Cited Study:

J Klimas, W Cullen – Substance Abuse, 2014


The prevalence of common mental and substance use disorders in general practice: new paper out now

The World Health Organization has long recommended that conditions like depression or anxiety are identified and treated early because they burden the healthcare system, patients and their families.

When we looked at the medical literature published and indexed by the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health in the last 10 years, we found that not much has changed. The unmet need for primary mental health care – identified by the World Health Organization a decade ago – remains unmet.

To read more about our review of literature, visit the publisher’s website:

The prevalence of common mental and substance use disorders in general practice: a literature review and discussion paper
Jan Klimas, Anna Neary, Claire McNicholas, David Meagher, Walter Cullen

Mental Health and Substance Use.

Shooting Overdose video

Do we need another educational video about overdose prevention? No. A simple internet search reveals hundreds of these clips. However, as the saying goes “If it hasn’t been done in Ballydehob, it can’t be true.” Of course, I tweaked the saying a bit. My point is that local problems need local(-ised) solutions.

In Dublin, Ireland, ambulance services attend to an opioid overdose every day. No surprises, the third highest rate of deaths due to drugs – 70 per million – in Europe. Reasons are complex – consequences fatal. But there is a simple solution. Naloxone, a heroin antidote, can be sprayed into an overdosed person by anybody. It is safe, harmless and cheap.

Figure 1 Naloxone

In USA, 10,171 lives have been saved by Naloxone which have been distributed to 53,032 persons. Naloxone saves lives. And yet, “If it hasn’t been done in Ballydehop, it can’t work.” Ballydehob is a small village on the Irish coast, very far from Dublin. We can’t show that Naloxone works there, but we can do so in the University College Dublin. And so we are, developing and piloting an educational intervention on overdose prevention and naloxone distribution by general practice trainees. Why GP trainees? Reasons are complex – consequences fatal. Plus, we need to start somewhere. Irish actors and accents will help us get a buy in from the local stakeholders who can help make naloxone fully available in Ireland.

Figure 2 Eric Schneiderman. Image: AP/Press association images

On July 1st, the UCD Centre for Emergency MedicalScience started production of a short educational video. The video shows 3 steps of response to opioid overdose with Naloxone spray:

  • Recognition
  • Assembly (Figure 3)
  • Administration – spraying (Figure 4)
Figure 3

Figure 4

Our work has been financed by the Irish College of General Practitioners. The college had no input into this post and the opinions aren’t theirs. They are mine.