Opioid treatment and emergency planning

Dr Denise Blake presenting

A recently published study on opioid substitution treatment in the event of a disaster addresses a neglected area of research in emergency preparedness.

Dr Denise Blake from the Joint Centre for Disaster Research published her research after discovering
a gap in knowledge around the needs of opioid substitution treatment (OST) clients in disaster situations.

OST is a harm reduction approach for people using opioids problematically and is an effective strategy in reducing illegal opioid use and other associated harms.

Seventeen participants were interviewed for the study including health professionals, emergency managers, service providers and alcohol and other drug staff.

Dr Blake says, “Emergency managers and professionals in the field do not understand the needs of OST clients and they had been ignored, misunderstood or overlooked.

"In much the same way, health professionals, such as community psychologists, and those in OST don’t understand the importance of emergency preparedness.”

Developing an effective emergency plan was one of the key themes that came out of the study.

A number of participants interviewed mentioned the Canterbury earthquake and how its aftermath affected OST staff and services, inciting an urgent need for disaster planning.

Some of the participants said meeting with Christchurch OST teams was a motivation to deal with their own strategies and they described the difficulties in creating a plan while dealing with day to day activities.

Variability was a factor mentioned as some OST teams have District Health Board emergency managers helping with preparedness while others did not.

This led to discussions between participants about the potential for a national plan that could be fed out locally to OST clinics around the country.

The other two key themes from the research were the importance of health and well-being in order to respond and recover from a disaster, and the potential limitations of access to stock, dose verification and the availability of scripts.

This research also highlights that OST is part of wider concerns about drug dispensing in disaster events, for example, cancer treatment or psychiatric medications.

Dr Blake presented her research at a psychology conference held in Melbourne in late April and the linkage between emergency preparedness and OST gathered considerable interest from other attendees.

The Trans-Tasman Community Psychology Conference focused on a ‘critical conversations’ theme and covered areas such as indigenous sovereignty, global migration, gender identity and marginalised groups.

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