Geneva - A powerful drug that can counter the effects of overdose should be made widely available in order to reduce deaths among users of substances such as heroin, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Tuesday in Geneva.
The UN health agency estimates that 69 000 people die each year after taking opioids - the group of drugs derived from poppy or its synthetic versions.
In most countries, only health professionals can get access to the substance naloxone, which helps to reverse the effect of opioid intoxication.
This is in line with previous WHO recommendations, but the UN body updated its guidelines to say that the substance should also be made available to friends and family members of drug users, as well as emergency service staff and social workers.
"Increased access to naloxone for people likely to witness an overdose could significantly reduce the high numbers of opioid overdose deaths," the new guidelines said.
WHO also pointed out that a dose of naloxone costs less than 1 dollar in several countries, far less than the cost of admitting an overdose patient to an emergency room.