‘Stop Overdose Safely’: How UNODC and WHO save lives by managing opioid overdose in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Ukraine

© Nick Danziger in Kazakhstan
    for the UNODC-WHO Programme on Drug Dependence Treatment and Care

Vienna (Austria), 6 May 2021 – The ‘Stop Overdose Safely’ is a joint initiative from UNODC and the World Health Organization (WHO) to address opioid overdose and provide life-saving medications to those in need. The initiative serves as a platform for exchange and mutual support to effectively prevent and manage overdose.


Opioid overdose is a growing global concern.  An estimated 57.8 million people used opioids in the past year globally in 2018 (UNODC, 2020) and opioid overdose is among the leading causes of avoidable death among people who inject drugs (Degenhardt & Hall, 2012; Mathers et al., 2013). Access to evidence-based treatment, including medication -assisted therapy, helps to prevent drug-related deaths and aids people with opioid use disorders to improve their health and well-being. Unfortunately, on a global average only one in eight people in need of treatment have access to it.

Naloxone is an emergency medication that can prevent death among people who have overdosed from opioids, if administered in time. In line with the WHO guidelines on “Community management of opioid overdose”, the UNODC/WHO S-O-S project delivered training on overdose management, as well as naloxone to potential first responders: people who use drugs, their peers and their family members.  

The Stop Overdose Safely (SOS) Project

The project was implemented in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Ukraine and demonstrated the feasibility and effectiveness of training on overdose management for people who are likely to witness an opioid overdose. 14,263 people were trained and almost 16,278 SOS naloxone kits have been distributed in four countries in only eight months.

The SOS training also demonstrated effective knowledge transfer with almost perfect training results. People likely to witness an overdose reported feeling meaningful and valued because of the training and the newly acquired knowledge, skills and resources. “What could be more important than to learn how to save someone’s life!”, said a person likely to witness an overdose in Tajikistan.

The project helped to address stigma and enhance mutual trust between people who use drugs, health service providers and other people likely to witness an overdose through joint participation during the trainings.

A person using drugs in Ukraine said: “I used to think that everyone was just waiting for all of us to die. Who needs these addicts? […] but this programme shows that, no, someone needs us, someone cares about how to save my life”.

The SOS cohort study

The accompanying SOS cohort study found that 90% of project participants reported using naloxone while witnessing an overdose. In almost all instances it was recorded that the victim survived.

The S-O-S study has demonstrated that communities that are empowered and knowledgeable can successfully manage opioid overdose through take-home-naloxone, including in low-and middle income countries.

The  project has been made possible thanks to the generous support of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement of the State Department of United States of America.