At the time when the Greek parliament was voting on the simplification of the availability of an antidote that can save many drug users from overdose in Greece, at London the mayor of Athens Kostas Bakoyannis, was receiving one of five awards at the inaugural Partnership for Healthy Cities (PHC) Summit, in which more than 50 cities from around the world participate, for the efforts Athens has made in preventing drug overdoses.

Speaking to APE-MPE, he thanked everyone who cooperates with the municipality, so that the mortality among drug users can be reduced in our country, adding that the new data now gives the possibility even to the relatives of addicts, to save the their man from an overdose by administering the antidote naloxone.

“The naloxone it can make the difference between life and death. That is why we fought this battle with such passion. We now move from theory to practice. And this means that a mother who has naloxone at home can administer it and save her child,” he says.

Mr. Bakoyiannis thanked him Minister of Health Thanos Pleuris who realized the importance of the issue and provided a substantial solution to a real problem, overcoming all legal obstacles, thus ensuring accessibility to naloxone, pointing out that “This award is recognition for a collective effort and I thank everyone who helps us in this . The award is accompanied by a significant amount of money that will be used to continue the work being done.”

Naloxone is a chemical substance, an antidote that is administered intramuscularly and in recent years and intranasally with a spray, to the user in case of overdose.

How the program started in Athens

The Municipality of Athens joined the Bloomberg Philanthropies initiative, “Partnership For Healthy Cities” (PHC) three years ago and in collaboration with the Hellenic Scientific Society for AIDS & Sexually Transmitted & Emerging Diseases, the Hellenic Liver Patients Association “Prometheus”, OKANA, the Ministry of Citizen Protection and all the organizations related to the harm reduction part, started to implement a program to deal with drug overdoses (Naloxone program).

The “soul” of the program in Athens, the sociologist and president of the “Athina Health” prevention center Fotini Leobila, shortly after the award, emphasized speaking to APE that “the goal is to help people who are addicted to substances, to become addicted. But until that happens, we have to find a way with our various actions to keep them alive”.

It is worth noting that the risk of overdose in the lifetime of a user of psychoactive substances ranges from 30% to 70%, while as Dalia Heller, vice president of Vital Strategies points out, which participated in the Greek effort by providing expertise on the issue of naloxone, ” it is estimated that 5% of overdoses lead to death. We worked with Athens as the problem grew in the midst of the financial crisis and we found that there was also a higher rate of deaths among people who use IVs.”

The cities that took the other 4 awards

The Athens award was made in the framework of the international cooperation for healthy cities (Partnership for Healthy Cities (PHC), organized by the World Health Organization, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Vital Strategies with the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.

In London, mayors and officials from more than 50 cities around the world discussed effective interventions to prevent non-communicable diseases and injuries, as well as practices that save lives and create healthier cities.

Non-communicable diseases and injuries are the number one threat to global public health,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, former mayor of New York and founder of Bloomberg LP and the Bloomberg Philanthropic Foundation, in his speech, adding that non-communicable diseases communicable diseases – including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases – and injuries, today account for 80% of all deaths worldwide.

Given that the majority of the world’s population now lives in urban centers, the challenge for city mayors to change the data on noncommunicable diseases and injuries is great.

“These awards show us that mayors can do a lot to protect the health of their citizens. WHO is committed to supporting mayors around the world to build healthier cities, said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

In addition to Athens, awards were given to the Indian city of Bangalore for its efforts to reduce smoking in public places, to Mexico City for its progress in road safety and efforts to encourage more and more people to use bicycles, in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay for healthy eating rules introduced in restaurants and canteens of government buildings and some universities, and in Vancouver, Canada for an online public health data tool that tracks population health indicators.

Since the establishment of the Partnership for Healthy Cities in 2017, members of the global network of at least 70 cities have pursued stronger public health policies and implemented programs such as tobacco control, food policy, road safety, strengthening non-communicable disease surveillance diseases and the prevention of overdose in substance users.