Naloxone is a nasal treatment for stopping heroin overdoses in Norway
Naloxone is a nasal treatment for stopping heroin overdoses in Norway Reuters

A nasal spray which can stop a drug user from overdosing on heroin is being trialled in Norway in a bid to cut deaths.

Naloxone – which is taken via an inhaler like an asthma pump - shall be given to at-risk drug users in the cities of Oslo and Bergen.

It is being introduced because in Norway fewer people die in traffic accidents than of drugs overdoses – in fact it has the highest rate in Europe. Drugs claimed 285 lives in 2009, 137 of them from heroin.

But the measure has been described as "controversial" in the country for setting a precedent which some fear shall be a step toward full legalisation.

Admitting action was needed, the country's health minister, Jonas Gahr Store, told Dagsavisen: "The numbers of deaths from drug overdoses is too high, I would say it's a shame for Norway."

Naloxone counteracts the effects of opiates in heroin by blocking them, meaning there should be fewer overdoses and fewer deaths. But it is only a temporary measure which buys time and is not a 'magic bullet,' meaning users should still call an ambulance.

Naloxone is an attractive option because no needles are required by users to administer the treatment which further cuts the chance of infection from spikes.

Fuelling the appeal of hard drugs for people who know the risks is the low price of heroin in a country with a very high cost of living. Scoring heroin can be significantly less expensive than buying a beer.

The decision has been welcomed in Norway by drug activists. Arild Knutsen said: "Store's move marks a breakthrough and will save many from an overdose. "This is a controversial move by the health minister, because it's completely new that state officials care about this."

The government has faced pressure to do more, including allowing doctors to prescribe heroin to users and to set up injection rooms. A prototype injecting room in Oslo shut down shortly after it opened, last year.

But moves could be afoot to let heroin users smoke the drug, if Store gets his way: He said: "The means by which addicts take their drugs is important in preventing overdose. My opinion is that we should allow them to smoke heroin. Injecting it is worse and more dangerous."