Preventing Death from Overdose

In many countries, overdose is the leading preventable cause of death among people experiencing problems with drugs. Overdose prevention measures delivered in community settings are incredibly effective; the introduction and scaling up of such measures would save lives of thousands of people.

The 3.4 to 3.8 million people using opiates in EECA are at risk of overdose, which remains the major cause of preventable death among people who use drugs (PWUD). The official statistics on overdose are often unreliable and significantly underestimate the real impact of opioid overdose in the region. Research studies by harm reduction organizations in EECA have indicated the truer scale of the problem:

  • In Almaty, Kazakhstan, 350 people who inject drugs (PWID) had all experienced a non-fatal overdose.
  • In Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, 25.1% of 1,454 PWID interviewed reported that they had witnessed someone overdose and die in the last year.
  • Studies conducted in different Russian cities showed 25 - 34% of respondents had had one non-fatal overdose in the past 12 months, while 59 - 75% had experienced a non-fatal overdose in their lifetime.

These statistics are all the more shocking when one considers that opioid overdose deaths are preventable. OST has a significant preventative effect and the provision of naloxone through emergency services, as well as directly provided in the community to PWUD and their families, is a highly effective measure that saves lives and has been shown to work in EECA. However, repressive drug policies and the criminalization of PWUD are significant barriers to rolling out these life-saving interventions. The fear of arrest, police harassment or being forced to enlist in a narcological register, all act as barriers to PWUD engaging with services.

EHRN wants to build on the positive experiences of harm reduction services that have piloted and demonstrated the effectiveness of overdose prevention measures in the region. EHRN has been significantly involved in pressing for new global guidance on overdose, including championing a key enabling resolution on overdose prevention at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. EHRN has also produced a set of key guidelines for the deployment of naloxone and has also mapped the current coverage of overdose prevention measures in the region[5].

EHRN calls on governments to set priorities for the prevention of overdose mortality and also to create the required enabling legal environment to allow for the roll out of naloxone programs across EECA. EHRN also encourages harm reduction networks and drug user groups to join in supporting the further development of overdose prevention services in EECA both in terms of enhancing provision through emergency medical services and increasing the community distribution of naloxone to PWUD and their families.


In Ukraine, one vial of naloxone, which is enough to successfully revert an overdose, costs only 25 cents. 

HCLU video: Bunny and Wolf. An Animated Guide to Prevent Overdose Deaths
I'm the Evidence: Naloxone Works! (Italy).
I'm the Evidence: Naloxone Works! Promotion video produced by community activists "Resetas" (Lithuania).