Ex-drug user who nearly died of overdose in a cemetery to give police life-saving advice

A former drug user who nearly died after an overdose in a cemetery is now offering insight to front-line police officers on a lifesaving treatment.

Peter Da Silva lay dying in Linthorpe, in Middlesbrough, cemetery following a relapse during a 25-year long battle with drugs. An anti-opioid Naloxone kit brought him round from his heroin overdose – and now the 39-year-old is offering insight to dozens of Middlesbrough police officers on what the kits can do.

Naloxone reverses the effect of opioids as a last-line way of saving lives of overdose victims. Nasal kits are being rolled out to 150 officers and PCSOs in the town as part of a six-month scheme – with a man’s life saved by an officer in the town over the weekend.

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Peter is now four years clean, about to start a masters degree in forensic psychology at Teesside University, and still working with Recovery Connections, in Middlesbrough. He said: “I was a prolific heroin and crack user. I’d been at it for 25 years.

Peter Da SilvaPeter Da Silva
Peter Da Silva

“My family would get me off it but it would come back. Because my tolerance was so low, I injected some heroin in Linthorpe cemetery and I overdosed.

“I just woke up and there was a police officer and ambulance standing over me – they told me I’d had Naloxone. I was petrified, scared and disoriented and didn’t know what was going on.

“They woke me up with the Naloxone – it kept me alive. I had a lot more pain to come after that. I had two induced comas from drug overdoses and I ended up homeless on the streets.

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“But through Recovery Connections, they gave me a chance on Marton Road and I took it. I stayed there for five months and I learned about addiction.”

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Peter’s lived experience works to help harm reduction for drug users in Middlesbrough – and part of this sees him tell his story to front line officers. “If it wasn’t for Naloxone I would have died there and then and none of this would have ever happened,” he added.

“My part in the harm reduction is lived experience so in the training I tell them about my experience of what Naloxone was like.” The Coulby Newham dad will celebrate his 40th birthday in three weeks by jumping out of an aeroplane.

A long road

Discussion of frontline officers carrying nasal Naloxone kits was brought to light in a Middlesbrough health scrutiny meeting back in February 2021. Street wardens saved the lives of no fewer than nine people in the town using injectable kits in 2020 – and users are given kits as part of “peer-to-peer” support to save lives.

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Detective Chief Inspector Jon Tapper said it had been a long process to get police approval for the kits to make sure they were safe for officers to use. He explained how each of the nasal sprays carried two shots with the £30 kits used quickly to reverse an opiate overdose.

He added: “Sadly, Middlesbrough ranks very highly for drug related deaths. What we do see when we review those is (we find) many of the people who die have multiple drugs in their system.

“It might not just be heroin or an opiate – it might be other forms of drugs. This (Naloxone) works on opiates but if someone has had a cocktail (of drugs) and you remove that level of opiate, it gives them a surviving chance.

“That’s what we’re seeing – people are using different types of drugs.”

A ‘real resonance’

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The senior officer said the kits were easy to use – and may not be as distressing to the watching public as an injection.

“The ultimate aim is to save a life,” he added. DCI Tapper also confirmed it was possible the scheme could be expanded across the force after a review in six months.

He also explained it was important they didn’t “walk away” after using the kits – with cards to help refer people on to support services and specialists. And he confirmed officers had heard from those, like Peter, with lived experience of Naloxone.

He added: “Certainly one of them said that was the point which started his journey to recovery. There was a real resonance with the officers when he said that.”

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Danny Ahmed, from Foundations, has played a role in the clinical governance of the wider Naloxone rollout to ensure it’s safe and sound. He said: “We know there are experiences for people who’ve been administered with Naloxone where that’s been a life changing moment.

“The line I always use is you can’t recover if you’re dead.”